Data Collection Update

In 2023, the Living Lab – Central Prairies launched extensive field work across prairie ecoregions, with teams gathering data on soils, vegetation, insects, and birds to study climate and biodiversity impacts of prairie agriculture.

Living Lab – Central Prairies kicked off field work in earnest in 2023, with fourteen field crews from seven organizations visiting 21 farms and ranches across the prairie ecoregions 250 times and counting, to collect field data on soils, vegetation, insects and bird communities. 

Research teams are now hard at work understanding how the data can inform conclusions about climate and biodiversity benefits associated with prairie agricultural producers’ management.

University of Alberta crews, under the direction of Dr. Cameron Carlyle, visited grazing and grassland management Living Lab sites across Saskatchewan to collect soil cores and vegetation samples. Numerous soil samples were collected at each site, at 30-cm and 1-metre depths with a specialized truck-mounted soil core. These samples were partitioned by depth classes and are being analyzed for bulk density, organic carbon, and other important parameters. Meanwhile, vegetation samples are being analyzed to determine forage quantity and quality.

Photo 1. © Caroline Wade/University of Alberta

Photo 2. © Caroline Wade/University of Alberta

Portions of soil samples from grazing and grassland sites were also shared with a University of Saskatchewan team led by Dr. Jonathan Bennett, who are now working to characterize the composition and diversity of soil microbial communities by extracting and analyzing DNA. As the soil microbiome is known to affect growth of seedlings, Dr. Bennett’s team is also conducting a greenhouse experiment to test how changes in the soil microbiome affect growth of the important grass species from each study site.

Photo 3. © Emily Soveran/University of Saskatchewan

Another University of Saskatchewan research activity, led by plant scientist Dr. Bill Biligetu in collaboration with soil scientist Dr. Jeff Schoenau is quantifying the outcomes of sod-seeding legumes into old tame grass stands. Mason Plews is undertaking the research as part of his Master’s project. Here, Mason is surveying the results of sod-seeding on the plant community at Ducks Unlimited Canada’s Touchwood Hills Conservation Ranch.

Photo 4. © Jeff Schoenau/University of Saskatchewan

Photo 5. © Jeff Schoenau/University of Saskatchewan

Collaborators from Birds Canada and the Canadian Wildlife Federation also visited several Living Lab sites over the summer to survey birds, and collect samples of the insect community. Their work will help us to understand how and why grazing and grassland management influences biodiversity across the prairies. Insect crews used pan traps and sweep nets to sample the Living Lab sites. Samples were then transported back to Ottawa for processing, identification, and DNA analysis.

Photo 6. © Tanner Stevens/Canadian Wildlife Federation

Photo 7. © Tanner Stevens/Canadian Wildlife Federation

Agriculture and Agri-food Canada also visited several project sites to sample soils, vegetation, and helped to inform the installation of Living Lab weather stations. This work will be key to understanding the interacting factors that influence outcomes on project sites.

Photo 8. © Kelly Williamson/Living Lab – Central Prairies

Thanks to all the project participants who allowed access to their farms and ranches this year, worked hard on data collection, and who continue to process and analyze the results. If this sparked your interest in becoming involved in project work, we encourage you to register your interest in joining us, and to stay tuned for upcoming opportunities with the Living Lab.