Science News

New Benefit of Prescribed Fires Discovered

controlled burn

Scientists at the Negaunee Institute for Plant Conservation Science and Action at the Chicago Botanic Garden discovered a new benefit of prescribed fires. In a 21-year study, researchers discovered that fires synchronize the bloom time of flowering prairie plants, which helps plants find mates, reproduce, and make more seeds. These findings demonstrate a previously undocumented and potentially widespread way that fire promotes healthy plant populations and maintains plant diversity in fire-dependent ecosystems worldwide.

When Legumes Ruled the World

60-million-year-old legume fossils

Paleobotanists Fabiany Herrera, Ph.D., and Patrick Herendeen, Ph.D., recently reported one of the earliest and most rich associations of legume fruits and leaves. Legumes, including plants such as beans, peanuts, chickpeas, and lentils, are among the most diverse flowering-plant groups today. Still, we know very little about their origin because of the scarce early fossil record, mainly from lowland tropics. The new fossils were collected from extensive coal and clay open-pit mines in Colombia and are about 58 to 60 million years old, from the Paleocene epoch.

Research Team Reviews Impacts of Climate Change in Polar Regions

fly on artic plant

Scientist Amy Iler, Ph.D., is part of a research team reviewing major impacts of climate change in polar regions of our planet. The study was motivated by the upcoming International Polar Year (IPY), a scientific research campaign focused on the latest findings in the polar regions: the Arctic and Antarctic. The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the earth, resulting in melting ice on sea and land, release of the powerful greenhouse gas methane due to melting permafrost, and disruptions of species interactions (Dr. Iler’s research specialty).

Scientist Discovers New Species of Plants from Fossils

19-million-year-old Spondias (hog plum) fruit from Panama, Central America

Chicago Botanic Garden scientist Fabiany Herrera, Ph.D., discovered three new species of plants from fossils collected during the most recent expansion of the Panama Canal in Central America. The 19-million-year-old fossils are related to modern-day mangos, poison ivy, and cashews—all members of the family Anacardiaceae. The fossils include dozens of “petrified” fruits that were trapped in sediments from volcanoes that erupted during the Early Miocene geological era. The fruits are exquisitely preserved intact in their original three-dimensional shape.

Scientists Train Graduate Students to Share Their Science

Wicked Plants exhibit

Conservation scientist Becky Barak, Ph.D., and assistant professor at the University of Michigan-Flint, Rebecca Tonietto, Ph.D., designed and implemented a science communication workshop at Bell Museum at the University of Minnesota.

The workshop covered multiple techniques for communicating science, including using a storytelling approach to share science in an effective and memorable way.

Scientist Travels to Antarctica

Women from the second cohort of Homeward Bound

Chicago Botanic Garden Conservation Scientist and Northwestern University Adjunct Professor Krissa Skogen, Ph.D. will join 100 women in STEMM (science, technology, engineering, math and medicine) to embark on a voyage to Antarctica this November, the largest such expedition in history. The Antarctic expedition is the culmination of a year-long global leadership training program for women in STEMM called Homeward Bound.

How do Plants Stay Connected in Fragmented Habitats?

Manduca quinquemaculata

New research by Garden scientists offers hope for plants growing in human-altered landscapes. The ability of organisms to move across a landscape is an important part of dealing with change. For example, this ability to move—or disperse—allows plants and animals to deal with human-altered land-use change, such as urban development, agriculture, and grazing. For plants, the ability to disperse from one habitat to another occurs via the movement of pollen and seeds, which involves the help of pollinators and seed dispersers.

Helping Gardeners Select the Best Nativars

Plant evaluation beds

Researchers at the Chicago Botanic Garden teamed up with experts nationwide to help home gardeners select the best native plant sources for their backyards. Many resources are available to help home gardeners decide which native plant species are right for their garden and goals. However, selecting the best source for those species can be challenging and often overwhelming. Gardeners often have many different sources or cultivars to select from at their local nursery, and not all are equal in their ability to survive and support wildlife in their yard.

First Southeast Asian Fungal Conservation Workshop

Southeast Asian Fungal Conservation Workshop

CBG scientist leads first South East Asian Fungal Conservation Workshop. This past summer, scientists from Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Germany, Belgium, and the United States met in Sarawak, Malaysia, to carry out the first conservation assessment of fungi (mushrooms) in Southeast Asia. Fungi are important for forest health and many are valuable as medicine and food for people. Losing unique species of fungi diminishes the health of natural ecosystems, especially forests.

Research Suggests National Science Conferences Can Improve Diversity Inclusion

A team of scientists led by Chicago Botanic Garden and Northwestern University graduate students found that more than three-quarters of biology conferences do not have codes of conduct and the codes that do exist are insufficient in protecting historically marginalized groups. Conferences are beneficial for career advancement and networking, but can exacerbate inequities and power differentials based on racism and sexism, which harm historically marginalized groups.