Science News

Negaunee Institute faculty, staff and collaborators publish papers describing their research in national and international scientific journals. They also publish technical reports and other products depending on the nature of the work. Our research and conservation work is promoted through news stories, blog posts, and other contributions that seek to explain the importance and impact of our work.

New Nonnative Bee Species for State of Illinois

Scientists report new nonnative bee species for state of Illinois. Andrea Gruver, a student in the Chicago Botanic Garden and Northwestern University graduate program, along with Paul CaraDonna, Ph.D., conservation scientist at the Garden, reported the first record in Illinois of a nonnative leaf cutter bee, Megachile apicalis. This finding is part of Gruver’s graduate research, which aims to understand the effects of urbanization on the wild bees of the Chicago region.

Plant-Pollinator Networks Are Resilient to Environmental Changes

Garden scientists learn that flexible plant-pollinator networks are resilient to environmental changes. Despite the regularity of the changing seasons, scientists know much less about the seasonality of interactions between organisms, such as the networks among plants and pollinators. New research conducted by Garden scientist, Paul CaraDonna, Ph.D., shows that networks of interactions between plants and pollinators shift dramatically with the changing seasons.

Scientists Describe Two New Tree Species

Garden scientists, students, and collaborators describe two new tree species related to breadfruit and jackfruit. While conducting fieldwork in Thailand, Chicago Botanic Garden scientist Nyree Zerega, Ph.D., and collaborators encountered a curious specimen of a tree related to jackfruit and breadfruit. Dr. Zerega is an expert on plants in this group, but nevertheless she was unable to identify the newly encountered specimen—in fact, she suspected it may be a new species. Zerega and Elliot Gardner, a Ph.D.

New Research Supports the Restoration of Resilient Plant Populations

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.

New Benefit of Prescribed Fires Discovered

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

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

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

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

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

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?

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

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

Garden 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.

Scientists Test New Restoration Approach

Scientists at the Chicago Botanic Garden are investigating a new approach to improve degraded landscapes for pollinators and other wildlife. In 2018, the Donnelley Foundation awarded $66,000 to investigate how well seed collected from native plants along roadsides and other tough habitats can germinate and persist in degraded, minimally-managed sites. Using these “native winners” could improve habitat and be a first step toward full-scale restoration.

Fossil Plant Research Helps Unravel Plant Evolution

Chicago Botanic Garden scientists received a grant from the National Science Foundation to collect and study fossil plants from Mongolia and Inner Mongolia, China. The three-year grant to Patrick Herendeen, Ph.D., and Fabiany Herrera, Ph.D., funds an international team of scientists to investigate the diversity and evolution of plants 66 to 250 million years ago when ecosystems changed very rapidly.

Insects Evolve Based on Who and What They Eat

Scientists have discovered that what and how caterpillars eat has led to the evolution of new species. Plant-eating insects make up nearly 25 percent of all animals globally, but we know little about how this great diversity came to be. Historically, scientists have affiliated this diversity with insects eating foods of specific plants—think monarch caterpillars and milkweeds.

Scientists to Lead Biodiversity Conservation Workshop in Indonesia

Two Chicago Botanic Garden scientists received funding to organize a workshop promoting international collaborative research on biodiversity conservation in a global biodiversity hotspot. Nyree Zerega, Ph.D., and Jeremie Fant, Ph.D. received a grant from the National Science Foundation to convene a meeting of U.S. and Indonesian biodiversity scientists spanning expertise in organisms from coral reefs, fungi, microbes, insects, bats, and plants.

Rare Plant Program Trains Scientists in Southern Illinois

Plants of Concern, the Chicago Botanic Garden’s citizen science rare-plant monitoring program, made steps toward extending its boundaries to southern Illinois. Many rare plants occur in southern Illinois, and local communities want to assess the health of these plant populations. However, they currently lack a standardized method of large-scale monitoring of rare plants. Plants of Concern (POC) scientists traveled to Southern Illinois University at Carbondale (SIUC) in mid-May to train members of Dr. David Gibson’s lab in rare-plant monitoring techniques as part of a U.S.

How Often Do Biocontrol Agents Get the Job Done?

Scientists at Chicago Botanic Garden evaluated 425 experiments that gauged the effectiveness of insects for controlling weeds. Introducing insects to control weeds has been helpful, but often the insect does not damage the target weed, and instead attacks beneficial plants.

Climate Change Harms Plants

Chicago Botanic Garden scientists learn more about how climate change affects plant populations. Climate change is causing plant species to flower earlier around the globe. Some plants experience severe frost damage to their flower buds when they flower too early, but that may not be as bad as drought associated with climate change.

Endangered Bumble Bee Found in Chicago

Chicago Botanic Garden and Northwestern University Master’s student discovers critically endangered rusty patch bumble bee residing within the City of Chicago. In August 2018, Chicago Botanic Garden and Northwestern University graduate student Andrea Gruver discovered the critically endangered and federally listed rusty patch bumble bee (Bombus affinis) foraging at flowers at the Rogers Park Metra station in Chicago. Gruver’s unexpected observation of the endangered pollinator happened as she conducted research on the native bees of Chicago.