Professor's Research Benefits Local Prairies

Professor's Research Benefits Local Prairies

Two local prairies are being restored by Cedarville University senior professor of biological science Dr. John Silvius and biology students. Courtesy of Dr. John Silvius.

by Public Relations Office—Cedarville, Ohio

January 30, 2009

Cedarville, Ohio—Dr. John Silvius’ passion for environmental stewardship first came to life during his childhood years on an eastern Ohio farm. After earning degrees in comprehensive science and plant physiology, Silvius eventually became senior professor of biological science at Cedarville University, where his passion for environmental restoration and conservation continues to motivate him.

Since 1990 Silvius has been restoring Ohio prairies, but he now focuses his passion in two main areas near Cedarville. The first is a 34-acre well field, which provides the water supply for the University. “After the well field was established in 1990,” explains Silvius, “agricultural activity had to cease to protect the groundwater from pesticides and fertilizer contamination.”

His second prairie project involves a series of remnant prairies that have survived along the bike path that crosses Greene, Clark and Madison Counties. Silvius and his students are currently trying to involve landowners in a stewardship effort to protect remnant prairie habitats left from pre-settlement days. “I’ve been blessed to work with some wonderful landowners along the bikeway,” says Silvius.

“It’s challenging to restore a natural community like a prairie,” Silvius continues. “The yearly changes at the restoration areas surprise us.”
For example, some plant species take much longer to grow, while others come in quickly and, as a result, replace the slower species. Silvius adds, “Unless we conserve the habitats in which diverse species live, they will become extinct.”

These projects offer unique educational opportunities for Silvius’ students. Biology majors assist by designing experiments, collecting and analyzing data, reading articles and presenting results. The students who participate in prairie research are applying the biblical stewardship principle, which teaches that humans have a responsibility to be caretakers of the earth. “Restoration of abused landscapes, whether rural or urban, is an integral part of what it means to be stewards of our communities. Land stewardship also draws us closer to our neighbors with whom we share in the bounty of good soil and water that sustains us,” says Silvius.

Madison Denison, a junior biology major, is working on a simulated grazing experiment, which measures the diversity of plant species after mowing the prairie to replicate bison grazing. “The Cedarville prairie represents an ecosystem that plays an important role in our world,” says Denison. “It is much more than just a field of grass; it’s a habitat that is the home to multiple organisms. By better understanding it, we can see the intricate role of each plant, animal and insect that calls it home.”
The prairie projects benefit area residents as well. Through their restoration, Silvius and his students help retain and filter rainwater that is then siphoned into the water table. “The prairie sod helps replenish wells that have struggled to keep up with recent demands,” Silvius says. Prairie grasses also sequester carbon dioxide from the air, thus reducing its contribution to climate warming.

Silvius and his students are active not only in the local community but also on a national level. In August, they presented their research at the 21st North American Prairie Conference in Winona, Minn. Silvius also created websites where community members can become acquainted with the prairie wildflowers they spot along the bikeway.

More Information

Read more about Dr. John Silvius' research.