Of the Garden's 385 acres, nearly one-quarter (81 acres) is water. A 60-acre system of lakes winds throughout the gardens and research facilities. About 5.7 miles of shoreline encircles the Garden's lakes, so it is not surprising that the Garden is keenly interested in protecting its shoreline soils and enhancing aquatic habitat.
Conservation and Restoration
How genetically diverse are ex situ collections of rare and endangered plant species? It is important to understand the genetic diversity held by ex situ collections and develop tools and techniques to increase this diversity wherever possible. This is important because ex situ collections that are not genetically diverse are of limited value to the long-term conservation of the species.
The Conservation GIS Lab is utilizing GIS element occurrences of Regional Forester Sensitive Species (RFSS) and topographic map data to create strategies for more efficient targeted seed collection in Hoosier National Forest in southern Indiana and Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois.
Native plants are those flowers, grasses, shrubs, and trees that are indigenous to a geographical region. Invasive species like buckthorn are those that, when introduced to a new location, can spread prolifically, competing with native species for resources and eventually dominating the landscape. Some invasive species were popular ornamental plants used in landscaping. Chicago Botanic Garden scientists researching invasive species have discovered that buckthorn was not nearly as pervasive in our region in previous centuries as it is today.
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 2014, we added 356 accessions to the bank. Our total holdings include 3,336 accessions of 1,479 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.
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.