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Lora Perkins Lab

Human health and well-being are dependent on having clean air, clean water, native pollinators, food production and wildlife (just to name a few essential ecosystem services) and all these ecosystem services are produced by healthy ecosystems. The foundation for healthy ecosystems is healthy soil and native plants. Anthropogenic land-use, species invasion and fragmentation all have potential to degrade ecosystems to the point that essential ecosystem services are lost. The aims of our lab are to investigate how anthropogenic land-use, species invasion and fragmentation impact ecosystem function and how management and restoration can maintain or regain native plant communities and their ecosystem function.

Research Summary

Badlands vista with high plant diversity

Native Plant Restoration

Native prairies are rich and diversity containing many different native plant species. Native prairies provide abundant ecosystem services including water regulation, wildlife and native pollinator habitat and soil conservation. Restoration of native plant communities, and the ecosystem services that they provide, is an emphasis in the Perkins Lab.

  • Increasingly, many areas in the northern Great Plains are impacted by saline/sodic soils. These soils are degraded to the point that they do not support plants or provide any ecosystem services. Therefore, we are conducting research (supported by USDA) to develop strategies to remediate and revegetate these sites. 
  • Anthropogenic chemicals are abundant and ubiquitous in the northern Great Plains landscape. However, the effect of these chemicals on native plant communities is unknown. We are conducting research to evaluate how parasiticides (supported by USDA) and how pesticides (supported by USGS) impact native prairies. 
Detail photo of invasive grass (Bromus tectorum)

Species Invasion

Within 24 hours, you can travel from the geographic center of North America to the geographic center of Asia illustrating the possibility for any species to be introduced into a new range at any time.  Invasive species can change almost every aspect of ecosystem function (native plant communities, primary production, nutrient cycling, water balance, disturbance regimes and habitat quality).

  • Understanding why some species become invasive, the impact these species have on ecosystem function and how to control invasive species and restore areas impacted by invasive species are major foci of our lab (supported by USDA).  
  • Plant-soil feedback, or how some plant species alter their soil environment and how that affects subsequent plant performance, is one mechanism that we devote much of our effort to investigating. 


Badlands overlook of grassland fragments


Fragmentation of wildlands produce profound and critically under-examined effects on ecosystem function. Fragmentation creates community disassembly, the gradual loss of native species from a community which is non-random and influenced by species traits, environmental conditions and biological invasions. Likely a tipping-point exists where fragmentation and community disassembly erode ecosystem function.

  • Understanding at what point (spatially and temporally) fragmentation affects community disassembly and resulting ecosystem function is essential for mitigation and adaptation as land-use change progresses.

South Dakota contains an idea natural model system to investigate fragmentation- the South Dakota Badlands. Fragmentation in Badlands is an ongoing process that began over a thousand years ago resulting in thousands of fragments of a wide range of sizes and ages.


  • Skylar Arent, M.S. expected 2020
  • Abigail Blanchard, M.S. expected 2020
  • Jacob Comer, M.S. expected 2019
  • Ming Stephens, M.S. 2017
  • Joe Bennett, M.S. 2016
  • Emily Ulrich, M.S. 2014
  • Joshua Leonard (co-advised), M.S. 2016
  • Jacob Pecenka (co-advised), M.S. 2017