As the twentieth century turned, Frederic Clements revolutionized the science of ecology with a new technique known as the quadrat method. Prepare yourself for something really advanced: Drive four wooden stakes into the soil, arranged in the shape of a square; then wrap a string around the stakes; count the number of each kind of plant in the quadrat; and, finally, write down the name and number of each species of plant in the quadrat.

Clements’s enthusiasm for tallying plants was unstoppable. He practiced this simple method over the next four decades and across the state of Nebraska—the wooded bluffs along the Missouri river, the meadowlands, the sand hill prairies of north-central Nebraska, and the tall grass prairies of eastern Nebraska.

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