Tallgrass Prairie Center


Pollinator Conservation

Butterfly weed and IRVM
Monarch on Liatris asperaRepeated threats to the survival of bees, and the decade-long decline in monarch butterfly populations have attracted widespread concern. The TPC is working to restore the necessary habitats of these important and beloved insects:


Working strategically
The Tallgrass Prairie Center is a partner of Monarch Joint Venture. Guided by the North American Monarch Conservation Plan, MJV partners across the US work to address priorities for research, education and habitat restoration.   Laura Jackson served on the US Geological Survey Monarch Science Conservation Partnership (see Environmental Research Letters). Kristine Nemec manages the statewide Iowa Roadside Management program, supporting 47 participating counties and attempting to recruit more each year. She serves on the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium and the Rights of Way as Habitat Working Group.

Building capacity for a robust, genetically diverse native seed supply
Since 1990, the Plant Materials Program has released over 80 species of native nectar plants, grasses, sedges and prairie shrubs for commercial seed producers. The visionary, sustained support of the Iowa Department of Transportation’s Living Roadway Trust Fund has made this possible.  We tackle the essential agronomic/horticultural issues related to the production of wild species, such as  seed germination, weed control, field conditions for maximum yield, seed harvest methods and processing. We share this hard-won knowledge for the benefit of tallgrass prairie restorations across the region.

Distributing native seed for roadsides
Federal, state and county roadsides make up 60% of all public land in the state of Iowa. Every year, Iowa Roadside Management  distributes 1100 acres of native, Iowa source seed to qualified Iowa counties, more than any other program nationally.  These roadside plantings include swamp and butterfly milkweed, plus grasses and dozens of species of nectar plants, feeding wildlife all season long. The diverse mixtures help to ensure that the road right-of-way resists erosion, intercepts blowing snow, resists weed invasion and remains functional for many years. 

Expanding the capacity to plant high quality habitat on farms
The Prairie on Farms program makes prairie practical for farmers, landowners, and their technical advisors. We have established ten demonstration plantings across eastern Iowa, ranging from 1.4 to over 9 acres. Published case studies, field days and winter meetings support practitioners with practical, research-based and timely answers to their questions. The annually updated Seed and Service Providers list provides information on a wide variety of habitat restoration services for landowners. The Restoration and Research program shares applied research results on seed mixes and planting techniques via training videos, technical reports, and presentations for beginning and experienced practitioners. 

Improving the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) for monarchs
With so little public land in Iowa, the most important source of improvement in monarch habitat is found in the CRP Program. Over 1 million acres of farmland are in some form of CRP.  Supported by the USDA Farm Services Agency, we collaborate with UNI Biology faculty and students to assess the plants, weeds, floral resources, and bees of midwestern Conservation Reserve Program plantings, and seek out the most successful strategies. Our newest study, in partnership with the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, investigates the supply and demand factors affecting native seed price and availability.

Planting high quality habitat for monarchs and other pollinators

Thanks to the generosity of Mrs. Cathy Irvine, the Tallgrass Prairie Center is establishing a 300 acre prairie in Benton County, Iowa, called Irvine Prairie. We seeded the first 8 acres in 2018 and will carry out  the final planting in 2029. Due to this staged approach we are able to apply all we know about prairie restoration, test new methods, and learn as we go. In addition to direct seeding, we use labor-intensive strategies such as hand collection of local seed, and transplanting greenhouse-grown plugs. So far, over 80 native species are growing at the site.