Dissertations and Theses @ UNI


Thesis (UNI Access Only)


Prairie plants; Biomass energy;


In order to mitigate rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, renewable energy sources, such as biofuels, are rising to the forefront of research and development. Corn ethanol and soybean biodiesel are the primary biofuels currently used in the United States, but perennial feedstocks of native prairie vegetation may have more beneficial carbon consequences. Net carbon dioxide sequestration exceeds release with these mixtures, resulting in the potential for "carbon negative" production, but studies have yet to investigate influential flux processes, such as soil respiration and litter decomposition, at a realistic scale for biofuel production.

The Cedar River Ecological Research Site, designed for biofuel research, has production-scale plots of 1-, 5-, 16-, and 32-species mixtures of perennial tallgrass prairie vegetation on three different soil types: clay, loam, and sand. I investigated the effects of soil type and plant diversity on soil respiration and litter decomposition, two important output processes in carbon sequestration. Soil type had a significant effect on respiration rates, with higher respiration occurring on clay and loam soils than on sand soils. Diversity also had a significant effect on respiration, with rates increasing with increasing diversity. The litter decomposition data did not vary among soil types or diversity treatments, but trends were consistent with the literature, with higher rates of decomposition on clay soils and in high-diversity treatments. These results suggest that the production-scale use of native perennial tallgrass prairie vegetation for biofuel may be beneficial in terms of carbon sequestration, but more research is needed in order to draw complete conclusions.

Year of Submission


Degree Name

Master of Science


Department of Biology


Tallgrass Prairie Center

First Advisor

Kenneth Elgersma, Chair

Date Original


Object Description

1 PDF file (1 volume (unpaged))



File Format


Off-Campus Download