Resource Ramblings 2005-10

Wind Cave Seed Study

Restoration of vegetative cover is required after ground disturbing activities in the Park, with the majority of these from human causes. In the past, park employees have planted commercially grown seed mixes of native grass species in order to restore vegetative cover. In many instances, the success of reseeding has been low, resulting in the need to investigate this need. As a result, the Wind Cave Seed Study came to life. The study is a cooperative (USGS and NPS) three-year research project that started in 2004 with the intention of defining a better native seed mix for the local area and the feasibility of collecting native seed from within the park for use in future restoration projects.

During the 2004 field season, the “seed study girls” gathered baseline data on success/failure of commercial mix by establishing 200 permanent plots on a fairly recent seeding done on the Wind Cave waterline. The plots were paired with one plot being located in the disturbed, seeded area and a control plot was located just off the waterline in the undisturbed area.

The control plot allowed the researchers to determine the potential natural vegetation that could be expected for the local soil and site types prior to the disturbance. The plots were read twice, once during late spring and again in late summer. Two readings allowed a more extensive inventory of both cool and warm season species. The second major task of 2004 was to collect and clean seed from 48 native species to plant in test plots in the mixing circle. Head researcher, Amy Symstad of USGS developed eight different seed mixes, and planted half the test plots in December, assisted by Marie Curtin.


The 2005 seed study team, Helen McGranahan and Leigh Stansfield, began the field season by mixing and measuring the seed for spring planting of the test plots. Since each species has it own germination requirements (stratification, scarification or surface sowing), multiple bags of seed were used during the May planting process! In mid-May, they began to gather data on what was beginning to grow in the test plots. Since the only treatment was scraping the ground with a grader prior to planting, there was a tremendous dormant seed bank of exotic and native species that were emerging by the time data gathering began. Differentiating between planted and on site species continues to be a challenge for the team. Prior to starting data collection the team did an intensive literature search to find pictures and identifying characteristics of seedlings expected in the plots. Seedling information and pictures for most native species in the Northern Great Plains is minimal. The above image is a prickly pear seedling.

Data collection included mapping, photographing, and counting seedlings, plus estimating cover of both seeded and volunteer species. The team finished the first round of data collection on the mixing circle plots in early July, re-read the waterline plots in July, then re-read the mixing circle plots in August and September. That’s a lot of staring at little plants!

Time was also required for watering with thanks given to volunteer Tom McBride for help. Thanks also to Sabrina Henry and Jim Dahlberg for help in developing a self- contained water system. Watering plots may have seemed silly to some folks, but if certain species failed to grow, lack of water would not be a factor to consider as cause. As year two of the study winds down, the study team is busy inputting stacks of data in the computer, labeling and cataloging pictures and developing a web page to help other resource managers identify native and exotic plant seedlings.

New Cave Inventory Database

Our summer volunteer, Tom McBride, was able to write a program that allows the entry of cave inventory data into an Access database. Cave inventory data is feature data that is associated with individual survey stations in Wind Cave (including speleothems, geological, biological, hydrological, and cultural features). Because contracting this project to someone with Tom’s programming skills would have cost us over $24,000, it would have been difficult to accomplish this without his volunteer services.

Using Visual Basic, Tom wrote 710 lines of program that allows us to enter ranges of survey data into a single field. His program then takes those ranges and enters each station and associated features individually into a single line (the computer does all of the hard work for us in a couple of seconds). His program also allows us to enter text into a comment field for stations that have unusual features.

We had attempted to accomplish this same project with other computer-savvy folks within the previous six years, but each of those attempts created duplicate data and produced forms that were very laborious for data entry. Tom’s program has reduced the time it takes to enter a single inventory sheet from approximately 30 to seven minutes! In addition to the program, he was able to remove all of the duplicate data from the database. This has reduced the number of stations in our database from 23,000 to 13,000, giving us accurate data.

We are now in the process of entering all of the backlog data that has accumulated in the previous six years (about 350 sheets) and all of the comments from cave inventories conducted between 1991 and 1998. Once the backlog data is automated, we will be able to use GIS to query the database. We will undoubtedly learn many things about Wind Cave that we never suspected. In the future, we will be able to prevent accumulating backlog inventory data by entering new data at the same time that we enter survey data into the COMPASS software. If you are interested in seeing the new program, stop by Rod Horrocks office for a demonstration.

Comments and feedback about Resource Ramblings are encouraged and can be made to Dan Foster, in person, or via email.

Last updated: April 10, 2015

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