Particles and Prairies Program and Kit are no longer available.
The Teacher's Guide Sampler is available for former teachers.

Particles and Prairies has been replaced by Energy and Ecosystems.
Teachers who have taken Particles and Prairies are eligible for the Energy and Ecosystems field trips.

This activity was in the 2001 Particles and Prairies Sampler. See the 2006 Sampler

Quadrat Study: Fermilab Prairie

Table of Contents - Activities:

Invertebrates - Fermilab Quadrat Study - Prairie - School Quardat Study - Baked Potato

PURPOSE: To find out if the planting and maintenance methods used at Fermilab are effective ways for improving the prairie.

OBJECTIVES: Students will look at two key things about the prairie to find out what is happening:

  1. Are we increasing the species diversity? Species diversity refers to how many different species of prairie plants we have. In a true prairie we find hundreds of different species. Our restored prairie will not come close to this. We hope in time that our maintenance methods will increase the species diversity of prairie plants and decrease the diversity of weeds.
  2. What plants are the most important at this time in the restoration area? This is an interesting question because it is not simply asking which plant is here in the greatest number. What if one plant is much larger than another or one plant is common only in one location? Thus with your data we can calculate an "Importance Value." This will give us an accurate picture of which plants are having the greatest impact on this area.

BACKGROUND: The prairie land presently on site at Fermilab is reminiscent of the original tall grass prairie that once covered 400,000 square miles of the Midwest. Currently, over 700 acres of prairie has been planted on the Fermilab site with plans for more in the future. This reconstruction process has been in progress for over 20 years. As prairie plants have been added, careful notice has been taken as to their progress and the succession of these plants.


PROCEDURE: In this exercise students will work in groups of three or four. Prior to the lab be sure to establish student roles, one as recorder, one as counter, and a collective effort to identify plants to help ensure success.

  1. Show students where to set up quadrats.
  2. Using two meter sticks and the Quadrat Study Data Page, students will map the location of the plants in their quadrat, drawing grasses first.
  3. Once the grasses have been drawn in, students will use the meter sticks to get the exact location of each forb.
  4. Students will get an accurate count for each species present in their quadrat and record this on the prairie plant data sheets (Sheet 1 and Sheet 2) and weed data sheets (Sheet 1 and Sheet 2). This will be easy for the forbs but difficult for the grasses. For our purpose we will count each stem of grass as a separate plant. If there is simply too much grass to count this way, count the grass in a half or a quarter of your quadrat and multiply by the appropriate number.
  5. Determine the percent cover for each species.


  1. To get the most accurate analysis of the data collected we will look at all the quadrats sampled.
  2. Proceed back to the Education Center and let each group enter their data into the computer. The computer is programmed to add all the data and then to do a series of calculations.
  3. The key value we are looking for is the importance value of a species. It tells us how important a particular plant is to the planting. The higher the value the greater the importance of that plant at this time. It will be interesting to see if and how these values change as future classes examine the study area using the class data.
    • What plant has the highest importance value?
    • What grass has the highest importance value?
    • What forb has the highest importance value?
    • What weed has the highest importance value?

    Obtain the importance values from last year. Are the same plants on both lists? Have students list any changes that have taken place.

  4. For long-term analysis of this area we would like to get an idea of the species diversity and how many different plants are there per meter square. Have students enter into the computer the number of different species of prairie plants found in their quadrat and also the number of different weed species found. The computer will use the class data and calculate the species diversity for each.
    • Diversity of prairie plants.
    • Diversity of weedy plants.
    • Diversity of prairie plants last year.
    • Diversity of weedy plants last year.

    Have students explain any change in the diversity values and predict how we would like these values to change in the future.

Program Contact: Sue Sheehan -
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Last Update: March 6, 2001