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New Study Shows Natural Prairie Grass To Be More Beneficial Than Green Grass

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Your lawn may be green and lush but, according to a new study from Northern Illinois University, planting other kinds of grasses and plants may be more beneficial to the planet.

A couple of NIU biology professors, Wes Swingley and Nick Barber, studied the Nachusa Grasslands near Dixon and found that 4,000 acres of farm fields that had been turned into prairie with help of conservationists, had a much more diverse and beneficial under-the-soil environment than if the land had remained cornfields, for instance.

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Recent NIU graduate Karley Chantos-Davidson (left) and biology professors Nick Barber (center) and Wes Swingley (right) take soil samples at the Nachusa Grasslands preserve. (Credit: Northern Illinois University)

Microbiologist Dr. Swingley said the prairie probably resembles what Illinois prairies looked like 200 years ago.

"A lot of getting to that stage, too, is getting over the idea of having a green, perfect grass lawn that isn't really a healthy ecosystem. That's probably as unhealthy as the row-cropped corn," Dr. Swingley said.

Wes Swingley (Credit: Northern Illinois University)

One of Illinois' nicknames is "The Prairie State," but experts point out only one percent of the prairie is left. Dr. Swingley points out that 90 percent of prairie land in the United States is now gone, "removed and replaced with agriculture".

Swingley and Barber looked at what's underneath the surface of the soil in, what used to be rows of corn, but are now acres of prairie at the Nachusa Grasslands. Dr. Swingley said the microbes in the ground nurture the soil where native plants grow, providing an environment where more species like the ornate box turtle and the bumblebee can find a home.

NIU scientists collect soil samples. (Credit: Northern Illinois University)

He said going natural prairie in your yard would be better for the environment, than having that perfectly manicured green lawn.

The new study is published in the journal of Environmental Microbiology.

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