Plants of Concern (POC) and other Chicago Botanic Garden staff have been major contributors to conservation projects for the North Shore ravines in Illinois, including development of a rapid-assessment tool kit for land managers to use in evaluating plant communities in their ravines. In 2014, the second version of this assessment tool was developed and tested. POC staff also served on a technical panel for climate adaptation planning with regard to ravine restoration.
When plants are introduced to a new location, either intentionally or accidentally, they can spread prolifically, out-compete native species for resources, and eventually even dominate the landscape. Biologists are studying the mechanisms underlying a taxon’s ability to become invasive, but for now it is still difficult to predict whether or not a species will become invasive in a new habitat. Click here to learn more about invasive plants in the Chicago region.
In 2014, we started research in modeling the species distribution of big sagebrush in the Great Basin of the western United States. The project, funded by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), is examining the current and potential distribution of several subspecies of this important plant. In 2014, the distribution models were created and staff again spent time validating the distribution models and collecting new subspecies locations to improve the models.
In partnership with the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) and the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Education Department staff, we continued work on the Project BudBurst and Floral Report Card projects. Project BudBurst is a national citizen science campaign that engages the public to collect important ecological data about the timing of leafing, flowering, and fruiting of plants (plant phenophases)—all of which are related to climate. The program has observers in all 50 states. The Floral Report Card project consists of a network of identical climate change monitoring gardens.
In 2013, we began a project to understand the temperature and moisture tolerance ranges for the germination of numerous native species. Seed recruitment is predicted to be one of the most at-risk stages for plant regeneration in a changing climate. This project will focus on multispecies, multigenerational lab trials to characterize tolerance ranges for germination, while field trials will test if any differences found are heritable.
Much like wetlands, gravel hill prairies represent a microcosm within the tallgrass prairie. The drier conditions support a unique plant community, including a number of important endemic and rare species. With the fragmentation of the landscape, these habitats are becoming increasingly isolated and many populations of these rare species are declining, and we are seeing reproductive failure in a number of species.
City green spaces are being recognized as important components of the urban ecosystem providing usable habitat for many organisms, including migrating species. Green roofs are just one example of an urban green space, but they are both novel and rapidly increasing in area within North America. Graduate student Kelly Ksiazek has been documenting the ecological services that green roofs provide, as well as describing the ecological services found on the green roofs. Her work has resulted in three publications to date (Ksiazek, Skogen, and Fant).
We have nearly completed a six-year study on the influence of grassland restoration on native bee communities in the Chicago region, using a chronosequence of restorations, unmanaged old fields, and remnant prairies (18 sites in all, each visited three times during the growing season for three consecutive years). All fieldwork and species identifications have been completed—we found a total of 131 different species of bees.
Earlier, we had completed a study in southern Wisconsin testing how vegetation and habitat characteristics of wetlands influence their suitability for secretive marsh birds (rails, bitterns, grebes, coots, and moorhens). As wetlands are degraded by watershed disturbances and invasive plant species, does their ability to support this understudied group of birds of high-conservation concern decline?
We are completing this project, in which we developed a collaborative network for adaptive management of the invasive wetland plant Phragmites australis (common reed). Participants from throughout the United States and parts of Canada have implemented a standardized monitoring protocol in Phragmites-impacted areas slated for control and restoration. Hundreds of soil and leaf-tissue samples were sent to the Chicago Botanic Garden for nutrient and genetic analyses that will be completed shortly.
Denitrification is a valuable ecosystem service performed by wetlands that removes excess nitrate from waterways—a pollutant that causes eutrophication, algal blooms, and hypoxia. It is hypothesized that traits of wetland vegetation influence rates of denitrification. However, denitrification is difficult to study, and methodological limitations have produced a literature filled with null, conflicting, and unclear results. We are testing the hypothesis of vegetation effects on denitrification using promising biogeochemical approaches that are underutilized in wetland ecosystems.