January 22, 2015

Yuccas will bounce back

In a recent post, I mentioned a wide-spread illness of yucca (Yucca glauca) in the Nebraska Sandhills.  The illness appeared as a yellowed leaf condition, and most individuals halted flowering at many sites that I observed, although pockets of 'normal' yuccas could be found.  The impact was felt by some UNL scientists who were trying to study yucca and pollinator interactions--it was hard to find flowering plants for their study.  That was odd and an unexpected problem.
Yucca in the north-central region of the Nebraska Sandhills
during the summer of 2014.  A yellow condition of the leaves
can be seen (photo by Larkin Powell).
Many people wondered--are we going to lose our yucca?

It appears the answer is no...they were just sick.  It has taken some time, but in December, a University plant pathologist has released a report on samples brought to the UNL West Central Research and Extension Center in North Platte, NE.

The report concluded that the plants from the sample provided were affected by a fungal disease called "Coniothyrium" or brown leaf spot.  A further explanation of the disease can be found, from a horticulture perspective, here.

Scientists from the UNL Center reflected that the spread of this disease was unusually widespread and severe.  As suggested previously, weather conditions and plant stress from the 2012 drought could be to blame. 

Although some plants did die, many yucca have already recovered.  Stop on the prairie next summer and take a look at the yucca you find.  Can you find new shoots or dead plants?  I'll bet if you look closely, you can find evidence of this disease.  But, it looks like yucca will be back to full strength in the Sandhills, and we can continue to appreciate them as a perching spot for grassland birds.  And, we can curse at them when we are stabbed by their leaves.

January 13, 2015

Prairie chickens in the Sandhills: information for ranchers

A chick rests in the hand of a UNL research scientist during habitat
studies in the Nebraska Sandhills.  (photo by Jess Milby)
My colleagues and I started thinking in 2008 about the need to provide ranchers in Nebraska's Sandhills with information to help them manage their pastures for prairie chickens. 

The problem is that most information that was available at that time was based on research in tall grass prairies.  Tall grass prairies receive more rain and have more grass and the vegetation is more dense.

The previous management guidelines routinely called for more grass to be left in the field than is typically found in a Sandhills pasture--so, Sandhills ranchers were faced with a dilemma: "Do I really have to abstain from grazing to provide for prairie chickens?"

The answer is no, and if you follow this link, you'll find a nice, glossy 20-page document that describes prairie chickens, their life history, their habitat needs, and how to provide for them on ranches in the Sandhills!

The Extension Circular is based on 5 years of research in the Sandhills, and the research was funded through Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.  It was a huge collaborative effort, with multiple graduate students and summer technicians collecting a lot of data.  There was sweat involved.  And, a lot of love for the critter of interest.

Here's hoping that this is useful to someone.