University research preserve celebrates 75 years of biodiversity studies

Work at the Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve is credited by some as changing how scientists view biodiversity.

Jeannine Cavender-Bares discusses the effects of burning different land plots at the Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve in East Bethel on Saturday, Sept. 9 2018. The center recently turned 75 years old and teaches scientists the current understanding of biodiversity and its importance. 

Courtney Deutz

Jeannine Cavender-Bares discusses the effects of burning different land plots at the Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve in East Bethel on Saturday, Sept. 9 2018. The center recently turned 75 years old and teaches scientists the current understanding of biodiversity and its importance. 

Kaitlyn Kubat

A University of Minnesota research reserve, known for its role in biodiversity studies, recently celebrated 75 years of work.

Since the launch of the Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve in 1942, researchers at the site have studied subjects ranging from controlled burns to tree disease, some of which have been vital to changing how scientists nationwide think about biodiversity.

In the 1970s and 1980s, many scientists believed natural areas with little variation in plant species would survive harsh conditions like frost or drought just as well as areas with high biodiversity, said Caitlin Potter, outreach coordinator at Cedar Creek.

But in the 1990s, University researchers studying plots of land at Cedar Creek noticed areas with diverse plant species were better able to survive a drought than those with low biodiversity, she said. 

This revelation was a turning point in biodiversity studies, adding to today’s widespread understanding that species biodiversity is crucial to ecosystem health. 

Cedar Creek’s research is especially relevant now, given the increasing pressure climate change, pests and disease place on natural habitats, said Jeannine Cavender-Bares, a researcher at Cedar Creek and a College of Biological Sciences professor.

Wide-ranging research conducted at Cedar Creek is made manageable by the fact the site has been around for the better part of a century, which gives researchers decades of reference data, said Cristy Portales, a University graduate student working at the reserve.

Notable scientific achievements throughout Cedar Creek’s history include the mid-20th century invention of radio collars to track animal movement and a 23-year-old grassland biodiversity project. 

Launched in 1994, the Big Bio project studies nearly 170 plots of land to better understand the impact of increased biodiversity on soil and plant durability, among other factors.

For University graduate researcher Shan Kothari, biodiversity has a more personal meaning.  

“Each of these species have a unique significance to people.” he said, adding some people might value a plant for its beauty while others admire its practicality. “Losing a species is like losing a part of the land.”