Tallgrass prairies are often restored from agricultural fields where the natural microtopography has long since been removed. Therefore, our study investigates the degree to which restored prairies recover microtopography. Differences in microtopography were measured using precise elevation data collected from LiDAR to compare differences in microtopography between crop fields, fallow fields, newer restored prairies, and older restored prairies. We also compared plant biodiversity indices between newer and older restored prairies using nested plot vegetation sampling. Our first research question is how microtopography differs between the sites. Our results show that older restored prairies had the most microtopographic variation, followed by newly restored prairies. Our second research question is how plant biodiversity correlates with microtopographic variation. Our results show that older restored prairies had the highest biodiversity and the highest microtopographic variation. Our third research question is how microtopographic variation changed between 2011 and 2021. Our results show an increase in microtopographic variation after a decade once farming has ceased. Land managers that have access to LiDAR data may want to add microtopographic variation as a tool for long-term monitoring of ecosystem function in restored tallgrass prairie sites. Our study suggests that microtopographic variation increases with the age of a restoration site, providing a quantitative measure of prairie restoration success.

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