Research

Students interested in joining the lab are encouraged to read over the material on this website (especially the information on this page) and familiarize themselves with the work in the lab. There are currently two main topics of research in the lab:

Restoration of ecosystem services

Ecosystem services are the benefits people obtain from ecosystems. Myself and my students are currently examining how prairie restoration affects biomass production and soil carbon sequestration. We are also examining factors affecting the establishment of biomass_socmilkweeds from seed, which is important because milkweeds are the juvenile food source for monarch butterflies which are currently being considered for protection under the Endangered Species Act. Much of this work is occurring at UNO’s Glacier Creek Preserve, although some projects involve work across the Great Plains and Midwest.

Most of the previously described work involves data collection on the ground, but I am also working with a landscape ecologist, Dr. James Hayes of UNO Geography / Geology, to develop ideas of how biomass production can be measured with remote sensing from low-flying aircraft. We currently have funding to use remote sensing to determine how plant biomass production and vegetation quality change at different scales in Nebraska and Kansas prairies. We also plan to examine how plant and soil characteristics are changing across space, and whether plant and soil characteristics change at the same rate when moving from one point to another.

Plant diversity patterns

Plant diversity patterns are important both because one of the main goals of restoration successional_fieldand conservation is to maximize species diversity and because plant diversity may affect ecosystem functioning. I am currently examining how burning and mowing prairie management affects plant diversity. UNO is blessed to have one of the oldest studies of the effects of the timing and frequency of burning and mowing. Dr. Tom Bragg in the UNO Department of Biology began the study in 1978 at UNO’s Glacier Creek Preserve. He created a factorial combination of treatments for the timing of burning or mowing (spring, summer, or fall) and the frequency of burning or mowing (every year or every four years). I am currently examining how these treatments have affected plant diversity over the past 30+ years, and I am examining how they are currently affecting the establishment of species from seed.

I have also set up a Nutrient Network site at Glacier Creek Preserve, and I am examining how fertilization and grazing affect plant dominance patterns and diversity. The Nutrient Network is a globally replicated experiment with sites on every continent except Antarctica, and students can add sub-experiments within the Glacier Creek Preserve Nutrient Network site.

FieldCrewGraduate Students: Graduate students are advised and supported by me and others in the University of Nebraska system of schools and are expected and encouraged to conduct original and publishable research. Prospective graduate students should contact me to discuss how our interests may overlap.  Also, please email me your unofficial transcript including GPA and raw GRE scores (and GRE percentile ranks) when they are available, and please review the application process and the degree requirements of the Department of Biology.

Undergraduate Students: Undergraduate students are always welcome in the lab! We seek talented, highly motivated students to work on assigned projects within the lab. Several current opportunities exist for you to receive funding for your project (e.g. the FUSE program for undergraduate research support), or receive graded course credit. Projects in the lab range from factors affecting the germination and establishment of grassland plants, to patterns of plant diversity, to questions relating to prairie restoration.

To apply for an undergraduate position in the lab, please email your resume to tdickson@unomaha.edu The resume should include 1) a list of completed science classes, 2) your anticipated graduation date, and 3) future career interests to me via e-mail. You do not need any previous research experience. Typically, most students will have maintained a high grade point average in science courses.