Restoring destroyed or damaged ecosystems is necessary to tackle global issues like climate change, soil health, clean water, and biodiversity loss. Highlighting its global importance, the United Nations has declared the next decade (2021–2030) the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. Research conducted by scientists at the Chicago Botanic Garden is focused on making ecosystem restoration as successful as possible by understanding how to restore resilient plant populations that can cope with current conditions and adapt to changes over time.
While zoos and botanic gardens around the world are closed to help flatten the pandemic curve, scientists at the Garden continue to work remotely to ensure the rare species they care for are not lost. This is important because plant species are being lost at an alarming rate, and botanic gardens play a central role in preventing their extinction.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.