Ecology Initiative

Initiative leader: Malcolm Robertson, (515) 294-1166,

Current Grants

Completed grants are housed in the ISU Digital Repository


  • Support of research, demonstration and outreach projects in the development and adoption of 'ecologically friendly' production systems
  • Improvement of soil health and biodiversity in the state of Iowa and beyond


Current Working Groups and Research Teams

STRIPS team logowww.prairiestrips.orgAn interdisciplinary team of researchers are investigating native prairie strips as a tool for improving the function and integrity of row-cropped farms. The project, STRIPS (Science-based Trials of Rowcrops Integrated with Prairie Strips), shows that small areas of perennial prairie, strategically placed on the contours and foot slope of a row-cropped watershed, provide multifunctional benefits for farmland health. The STRIPS experiment began in 2008 on 14 small watersheds at the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge.

Related grant projects:

  • Prairie contour strips: Demonstrating the importance of custom seed mix for biological integrity (E2015-16)
  • Blurring the lines between working and conservation lands: Enhancing bird and pollinator habitat using prairie strips (E2015-10)
  • Investigating opportunities for enhancing farmer adoption of strategically targeted prairie strips in Iowa (P2012-08)
  • Blurring the lines between working and conservation lands: Bird use of prairie strips in row-cropped watersheds (E2011-20)
  • The impact of biodiversity services in row crop production in annual verses perennial landscapes (E2006-13)
  • Variations in water and nutrient cycling and soil properties during agricultural landscape restoration (2004-E14)


winter rye cover cropIowa Cover Crops Working Group: The Iowa Cover Crops Working Group is part of the Midwest Cover Crops Council, which is a working group affiliated with Green Lands, Blue Waters. The mission of the MCCC is to significantly increase the amount of continuous living cover on the Upper Midwestern agricultural landscape.

Cropping Systems Research Team: The Cropping Systems Research Team has found that adding small grains, red clover and/or alfalfa to corn-soybean cropping systems can greatly reduce the need for fossil fuels, chemicals and synthetic fertilizers, without sacrificing yields or profitability. The project has been funded by Leopold Center competitive grants, the USDA National Research Initiative, the Iowa Soybean Association, and the Organic Center.

Mid-American Agroforestry Working GroupThe Mid-American Agroforestry Working Group (MAAWG) is an organization for advancing the science, practice and adoption of agroforestry by landowners and natural resource managers in the Midwest region of the U.S.  The group is not a political or advocacy organization but is focused on promoting the adoption of agroforestry in the Mid-American region through expanding knowledge, coordinating and leveraging resources, and building stakeholder capacity.

The University of Iowa Biomass Fuel ProjectThe Biomass Fuel Project is an interdisciplinary program which aims to assess and improve university power plant facilities, biomass feedstock, and community awareness and education in biomass energy. The project utilizes a coal and biomass blend primarily using oat hulls and wood chips. The project also focuses on developing a regional energy stock in dedicated energy crops, such as Miscanthus. The project employs two solid fuel furnaces at the main University of Iowa power plant and one solid fuel furnace at the UI research park to burn the co-blended fuel.


Previous Ecology-based Working Groups and Research Teams


Ecology Resources

Life Cycle Assessment:  LCA is a biophysical accounting framework that has been standardized by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). LCA involves compiling an inventory of the material and energy inputs at each stage of a product life cycle, and quantifying how these flows contribute to specific resource use and emissions-related environmental impacts. This research approach can be used to examine energy use, greenhouse gases, and other emissions associated with products, livestock, and crop production systems. The Leopold Center has funded or collaborated on several LCA-related projects.

Conservation Reserve Program: This publication series, “Conservation Reserve Program: Issues and Options," began as a research project of the Leopold Center. These information sheets can help CRP contract holders assess the land-use options available to them when the contracts expire. 


Managed Grazing Systems: The Leopold Center has supported research to help operators manage pastures for grazing. These publications summarize findings and how to apply them on the farm.