Conserving and Restoring Natural Areas

Restoring native habitats such as tallgrass prairie, deciduous woodlands, and wetlands is a core element in our research and action efforts. Central to the success of restoration, is solid science that guides the identification of restoration best practices. Thus, our focus is on the science of conservation and restoration.

Using Plant Community Phylogenetics to Inform Restoration of Tallgrass Prairies

Restoration of Tallgrass Prairies

Phylogenetic diversity—a measure of the degree of relatedness within a community, across the evolutionary tree of life—is an important component of biodiversity that has only recently been applied to the study of restoration. Phylogenetic diversity is thought to be predictive of many ecosystem functions that are also restoration objectives, such as plant productivity and resistance to invasion.

Factors Impacting Restoration Success in Wetlands

Factors Impacting Restoration Success in Wetlands

Ecological restoration is increasingly used as a tool to limit the ongoing loss of wetlands and protect their diversity and functions, but projects sometimes fail to meet targets. Studying complete restorations can identify landscape factors modulating their success to improve future planning and design. This project uses archives of satellite images to examine the response of wetlands to restoration interventions and identify the local and regional factors that impact wetland recovery throughout the Great Lakes.

The Consequences of Prescribed Fires in Tallgrass Prairie for Pollination and Plant Reproduction

prescribed fire

Fire shapes the physical structure and species diversity of ecosystems worldwide. For the past several thousand years in North American, tallgrass prairie, frequent fires maintained grassland habitat and contributed to the diversity of birds, mammals, insects, and plants that are found in prairies today. Yet, widespread habitat loss and the elimination of fire are causing native plant populations to decline in the few prairie patches that remain. Prescribed burns promote native plants.

Seed and Germination Traits and Restoration

Seed and Germination Traits and Restoration

Functional traits are important predictors of how plant communities will assemble and function, influencing the ecosystem services these communities provide. The vast majority of studies linking functional traits to community assembly use vegetative plant traits of mature life stages, like plant height and specific leaf area, to predict community outcomes. Regenerative traits, like seed and germination traits are vital to understanding assembly and persistence of plant communities; however, they are surprisingly understudied relative to traits of mature plants.

Seed Mix Design for Restoration

Seed Mix Design for Restoration

Restoration seed mixes are raw materials for restoration. They represent a source of potential biodiversity for restored plant communities. They are carefully designed by restoration practitioners, but after they are planted, species biology, site management, and many other factors influence which species germinate, establish, and persist to form the restored plant community. Our work integrates questions in social science and ecological science to understand how restoration managers make decisions and how these decisions influence restoration outcomes.

Using Low-input Seeding of “Native Winners” to Increase Ecosystem Services of Degraded Grasslands

The Chicago Botanic Garden and Forest Preserves of Cook County are deploying “native winner” plant species—workhorse perennials with potential to compete in highly invaded landscapes—to develop an effective, economically sustainable, low-input adaptive management strategy for improving floral resources and ecosystem services. If successful, this approach could be used in many sites (roadsides, preserves awaiting full-scale restoration) to improve habitat in a low-cost, minimal effort way. (Zelden, Havens)

Native Plants as Lawn Alternatives

Native Plants as Lawn Alternatives

Grass lawns are the number one irrigated crop in the United States. Given cultural maintenance norms associated with lawns, such as mowing, watering, fertilization, and herbicide applications, these broad swaths of public and private greenspace actively contribute to climate change. While some spaces, like soccer fields, must be mown grass lawn, many spaces that are currently maintained as lawn, likely don’t need to be.

Managing Natural Areas in the Chicago Region to Support Diversity and Resiliency

Buckthorn removal

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.

Conservation of Rare Species of the Fragmented Dry Habitats

Gravel hill prairie

The tallgrass prairie was once an extensive ecosystem that spanned most of Illinois. Given the state’s lack of topographic relief, this expansive habitat appeared as a “sea of grasses” that extended to the horizon. On closer examination, this seemingly uniform and unvarying landscape was made up of a patchwork of different habitats, each supporting a different suite of species, making the prairies a biologically diverse ecosystem. One important driver of this diversity was the mosaic of soil and bedrock underlying the prairies.