The Chicago Botanic Garden’s Dixon National Tallgrass Prairie Seed Bank continues to collect and preserve germplasm of native plant species from the Upper Midwest. In 2013, we added 291 accessions of 215 species to the bank. Our total holdings include 2,757 accessions of 1,315 species. We also collected seeds on contract from the U.S. Forest Service, and we continue to be an active partner in the national Seeds of Success (SOS) program. Megan Haidet, hosted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Bureau of Land Management, coordinates all SOS activities.
Conservation and Restoration
With an Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) grant, the Chicago Botanic Garden is piloting a native seed augmentation project utilizing vacant city lots as urban native seed farms. In 2012, raised beds were constructed at the Cook County Vocational Rehabilitation Impact Center composting site, and plants of local ecotype were planted. Seed harvesting techniques were taught to students enrolled in the native seed farming program as seeds were harvested from the Pershing Road seed farm demonstration site.
Chicago Botanic Garden scientists and graduate students have been working on conservation- and restoration-related research in the arid regions of the western United States since 2002. Much of the native habitat in the western United States is degraded as a result of changes imposed by invasive species, altered fire regimes and land-use patterns, and a shifting climate. These changes will only become more prevalent in the future.
An important goal of any reintroduction is to provide sufficient genetic variability to buffer against changing selection pressures and to ensure the long-term survival and continued evolution of a species. Genetic erosion during the creation of a reintroduced population can have a large impact on long-term success. Reintroduction of a new species involves collecting wild seeds, bulking in seed-increase beds, propagating in tubes, and sowing directly into reintroduction sites. All of these steps have the potential to create bottlenecks that diminish genetic representation.
The ravines found along the western shore of Lake Michigan are a unique natural habitat found in the Chicago region. The steep topography and cool, moist lake breezes that flow into them from Lake Michigan support a variety of rare plant communities. These natural areas are under threat from intensive urbanization, invasive species, and lack of management. Severe erosion, increasing shade levels, and loss of vegetative ground cover are some of the serious threats impacting these environments.
With a grant from the American Bird Conservancy, we are continuing to collaborate with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s East Gulf Coastal Plain Joint Venture (EGCPJV) to develop predictive models that relate focal species population dynamics to habitat dynamics and habitat management actions. A key component of this work includes communicating with partners of the EGCPJV to understand the kinds of decisions they make regarding grassland habitat management to ensure that the utility of the project is made apparent to these decision makers.
Specialty crops (apples, cherries, blueberries, etc.) depend on honey bees for pollination, yet the future ability of bees to meet crop pollination demands is uncertain, and honey bee populations are facing significant challenges. Besides using honey bees, there are many other strategies that growers may employ to diversify the sources of crop pollination. Funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, we are collaborating with researchers from universities, industry, NGOs, and government to develop decision-support tools for growers of specialty crops.
With a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, we continue to develop Internet-based decision support tools for land managers dealing with invasive species. The tools integrate monitoring, management objectives, and actions with predicted outcomes determined through the monitoring efforts, ultimately uniting scientific research with conservation practice.
Fungi constitute a major portion of belowground biomass in many soils and thus are considered to be a major contributor to carbon sequestration. While there has been substantial research directed toward defining the roles that fungi play in soil carbon cycling, and especially toward measuring biomass and activity, there is very little information on how long fungal tissues persist in the soil and in what chemical form.
Prairie and woodland restorations are typically assessed solely by their aboveground visible characteristics, such as plant diversity and productivity. However, in neglecting to assess belowground ecosystem health, we may be missing half of the picture.