To represent our local diversity, the Outdoor Learning Lab includes four ecosystems featuring native flora and fauna.


Six acres planted in 2009

The north most section of the lab aims to replicate local forest communities including the willow, shrub and cottonwood community in wetland corridors, the sugar maple, basswood and white pine community in cool northeastern ravines and the hickory and oak community in west and south slopes. Where west and south slopes are too dry for trees due to sun exposure, a transition from forest to prairie would occur in our region, as it does in the lab.


Six acres planted in 2009

A savanna is a prairie interspersed with fire tolerant trees. The lab’s savanna is located between the forest and prairie, as it is often in found in this transition zone. Savannas form where local soil types, rainfall, fire, ungulate grazing and topography encourage them.


24 acres planted in 2009 and 2015

The lab has six acres of prairie planted in 2009 in the southeast, and 18 acres planted in 2015 in the west. Less than 1/1000 of Iowa’s native prairie remains. This led to the science of prairie reconstruction and greatly informed efforts to replace rare ecosystems. Reconstruction of prairie includes reestablishing native grasses and forbs and replicating natural cycles of fire and grazing. The lab’s east prairie and savanna was burned in 2012 and 2015.


Six acres planted in 2009 and 2015

From north to south, the lab’s wetland captures and cleanses local surface water draining through a small upper pond and two bioswales before entering a lower one-acre pond. From west to east, a series of four prairie potholes capture water moving toward the lower pond. Wetland offers valuable wildlife habitat and an important water control structure. The lab’s wetland contains a freshwater food web, offers food and rest to migrating waterfowl and is an IoWater testing site.