Bringing Back Texas

A team of UNT faculty, staff and students working to restore DFW prairies

The Advanced Environmental Research Institute (AERI) at the University of North Texas (UNT) has been established as an Institute of Research Excellence. AERI touts a multidisciplinary team of researchers committed to collaborating on large research projects with an emphasis on application of research findings to the solutions of our most pressing environmental issues. One of the most interactive projects is the restoration of North Texas prairies.

Think of it as a sort of landlocked Noah’s Ark.

A team of University of North Texas faculty, staff and students led by Jaime Baxter-Slye, Ph.D., an instructional laboratory supervisor in the Department of Biological Sciences, has reconstructed a native Texas tall grass prairie that has become a magnet for biodiversity.

More than 200 species of plants, insects and birds have been documented at the prairie, including four to six species of native grasses, 20 species of native Texas flowering plants (including rare Maximilian sunflowers) and at least six species of predatory birds.

“From an ecological standpoint, having predatory birds means there are enough plants and habitat with insects and other animals that the birds eat,” says Baxter-Slye. “It’s functioning as an ecosystem, which is what we wanted.”

With existing prairie plants on site, Discovery Park provided an ideal location for the prairie, which was funded by the We Mean Green Fund. The habitat is located on a patch of land at Discovery Park, a nearly 300-acre, UNT-owned research park located five miles north of the main campus in Denton.

Native Texas tall grass prairie habitats are the most endangered habitat types in the Lone Star State. DFW was once home to about 40,000 acres of productive prairie land and was covered by more than 2,200 species of native plants.

Today, less than 1% of prairie ecosystems remain.

Approximately 1,500 undergraduate students and several community groups have visited and studied the Pollinative Prairie’s 8,000-plus plants since its opening, including 400 students enrolled in a newly introduced environmental science lab.

Members of the departments of Biological Sciences, Philosophy and Religion, Engineering, and Art have partnered for the project, as well as several student organizations. The project is also organized in association with Bee Campus USA, Texan by Nature, the Xerces Society Million Pollinator Garden Challenge and the Monarch Wrangler program.

This article is part of the 2020 Higher Education Review Magazine.