Microbial community PLFA and PHB responses to ecosystem restoration in tallgrass prairie soils

  • Published source details McKinley V.L., Peacock A.D. & White D.C. (2005) Microbial community PLFA and PHB responses to ecosystem restoration in tallgrass prairie soils. Soil Biology & Biochemistry, 37, 1946-1958.


In this study undertaken at Goose Lake Prairie State Park (1,027 ha) in northern Illinois (northeast USA), surface soil characteristics (physical, chemical and microbial properties) of three prairie restorations of varying ages were compared with undisturbed native prairie and an agricultural field.

The study sites, all in close proximity and on loamy soils, were:
i) an agriculture cropland field since the 1860s;
ii) a recent prairie restoration seeded in 1992, primarily with big bluestem Andropogon gerardii;
iii) a ‘high quality’ prairie restoration (1975) with a variety of prairie grasses and forbs;
iv) a prairie restoration (1978) on soils disturbed by a strip mine. In 1972 and 1978, reclamation measures included reshaping of spoil, spreading 15 cm of topsoil over exposed spoil, fertilizer addition and seeding with several grass and forb species.
v) a virgin prairie remnant with a diverse warm season grass and forb sward.
All prairie sites were managed by burning every three to five years.
Soil was sampled (2.2 cm diameter corer to 5 cm depth) from the sites on 21 August 1999. The following were determined: soil texture; bulk density; water-holding capacity; moisture content; organic matter; total soil carbon (C), nitrogen (N) and sulphur (S), and poly-β-hydroxybutyrate (PHB) levels. Microbial biomass was estimated as total extractable phospholipid fatty acids (PLFA), and PLFA profiles analyzed to determine microbial community composition.

Soil moisture, organic matter, total C, total N, total S, C:N ratio, water-holding capacity and microbial biomass were significantly greater in the virgin prairie and the two older (21 and 24 year) prairie restoration sites, compared with the agricultural field and the most recent restoration (begun 7 years prior to sampling). Soil bulk density was significantly greater in the agricultural field and recently restored site. Soil quality indicators and microbial communities in the restoration sites were mostly between those of the virgin prairie and the agricultural field. PHB levels and PLFA indicators of nutritional stress were significantly greater in the agricultural field and recent restoration site. Prairie age was the most important factor in determining microbial community composition.
These findings indicate that whilst the prairie restoration methods tested can improve surface soil quality, it takes many years to approach levels of virgin prairie.

Note: If using or referring to this published study, please read and quote the original paper, this can be viewed at:

Output references
What Works 2021 cover

What Works in Conservation

What Works in Conservation provides expert assessments of the effectiveness of actions, based on summarised evidence, in synopses. Subjects covered so far include amphibians, birds, mammals, forests, peatland and control of freshwater invasive species. More are in progress.

More about What Works in Conservation

Download free PDF or purchase
The Conservation Evidence Journal

The Conservation Evidence Journal

An online, free to publish in, open-access journal publishing results from research and projects that test the effectiveness of conservation actions.

Read the latest volume: Volume 20

Go to the CE Journal

Discover more on our blog

Our blog contains the latest news and updates from the Conservation Evidence team, the Conservation Evidence Journal, and our global partners in evidence-based conservation.

Who uses Conservation Evidence?

Meet some of the evidence champions

Endangered Landscape Programme Red List Champion - Arc Kent Wildlife Trust The Rufford Foundation Save the Frogs - Ghana Bern wood Supporting Conservation Leaders National Biodiversity Network Sustainability Dashboard Frog Life The international journey of Conservation - Oryx British trust for ornithology Cool Farm Alliance UNEP AWFA Bat Conservation InternationalPeople trust for endangered speciesVincet Wildlife Trust