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Ecology Mentor Projects

Does diversity of its floral neighborhood affect pollination of a model prairie plant? (2018)

Tallgrass prairie has been reduced to just a fragment of its original size. Does an Echinacea plant produce more seeds if it’s in a highly diverse remnant compared to a less diverse remnant of the same size?


In west central Minnesota, the model prairie perennial, Echinacea angustifolia (purple coneflower), grows in a variety of remnant habitats. We know the nearness of


Assessing the impact of drought on plant-pollinator and plant herbivore interactions (2018)

Many consequences associated with global climate change directly affect Earth’s ecosystems, including changing precipitation patterns associated with increased drought frequency and intensity in arid regions. Water availability has a strong influence on the distribution of plant species globally and can impact the allocation of resources within individual plants. In times of limited water


Bees on roadsides: does habitat quality impact diversity? (2018)
Less than 1% of the Tallgrass Prairie remains, making questions regarding its conservation of critical importance. Much of the Tallgrass Prairie exists in small remnant patches along roadsides, within a matrix of development. Roadsides provide bees with floral resources and nesting habitat, but may negatively impact bee health. We plan to assess the diversity and abundance of native bees in

Big city bees: exploring the consequences of urbanization on native bee communities in Chicago (2018)

With urban areas growing dramatically, it is critical that we understand how ecological communities respond to the land-use changes associated with urbanization. Native pollinators may be particularly susceptible to effects of urbanization given various aspects of their ecology and natural history. Although research on the effects of urbanization on native bees is growing, we are still far


Can plants have sex with themselves? Investigating self-fertilization in California annuals (2018)

In Southern California, diverse annual plant communities germinate in the winter and bloom in early spring. With so many different species of flowers open simultaneously, competition for pollination may be fierce. But, some species may be able to self-fertilize, reducing their reliance on pollinators for reproduction. However, scientists don’t know which species are capable of self-


Genetic Diversity and Variation in Populations of the Endangered Cactus Sclerocactus wrightiae (2018)

The effects of herbivory on genetic diversity in rare and endemic plants has not been studied in depth. Climate change models predict an increase in new pests and disease due to increased temperatures and CO2; expanding the range of pests. Sclerocactus wrightiae is an endangered cactus endemic the Colorado Plateau (Capitol Reef National Park & surrounding areas). In 2015 an


How much and what types of genetic diversity matter when restoring habitat? (2018)

We are studying how genetic diversity influences productivity and ecosystem services in wildflower species being used to restore habitat in the western United States. For this, we have measured differences in important leaf and root traits among many individuals from different populations of each species, and during Summer 2018 will be manipulating the amount and type of genetic diversity


New solutions for an old problem? Combining biochar, mycorrhizal fungi, and sand to restore the quality and health of soils. (2018)

The concept of restoring or enhancing the quality and health of soil resources has become increasingly popular, but what is soil health and how can it be enhanced? Soil health is the generally defined as the capacity of soil to sustain plant productivity, and maintain or enhance water and air quality. However, translating science into practice can be complicated. Measuring 'soil quality' does


Restoration of Aquatic Environments (2018)

Aquatic macrophytes, refers to submerged species that inhabit aquatic habitats. This diverse group of species plays an important role in ecosystem function, which includes among other things, habitat and food for fish and invertebrates. However, despite their importance, they are often forgotten component of wetland restoration. A number of these species in this category are now rare, which


Saving the last populations of Strawberry Tree (Arbutus andrachne; Ericaceae) in the Republic of Georgia (2018)

Arbutus andrachne L. (Greek strawberry tree) is an evergreen shrub or small tree with a circum-Mediterranean distribution from Tunisia to Morocco along the north of Africa, and from Spain to Turkey along southern Europe. However, the more restricted Euro-Siberian populations, such as those in the Republic of Georgia, are considered endangered. Here, Arbutus andrachne


Understanding changes in genetic diversity when producing seed for restoration (2018)

Genetic diversity is an important quality in seeds used for ecological restorations.  Sourcing seeds from multiple wild populations increases overall genetic diversity. To produce enough seeds for large-scale restorations, multi-source seed production beds are used to combine seeds from wild populations, increase genetic diversity, and


Floral traits at the intersection of herbivory and pollination in evening primroses (2017)

The Dimensions of Biodiversity: Landscapes of Linalool grant broadly examines the role of floral scent in mediating pollinator and herbivore interactions and in driving the diversification of evening primroses at multiple evolutionary timescales. Due to their opposing effects on plant fitness, herbivores and pollinators have the potential to influence the evolution of floral phenotypes across


How Does Seed Head Position and Climate Affect Seedling Establishment in Cirsium pitcheri? (2017)

Cirsium pitcheri (Pitcher’s thistle) is a federally listed-threatened monocarpic perennial plant that is endemic to the Great Lakes region. The species’ survival is dependent on successful seed production, seed dispersal in its wind-swept dune environment, seed germination and seedling establishment. However, despite C. pitcheri’s suitability to its environment, this species


Identification of pollinators of Artocarpus species (2017)

Pollination is one of the most important drivers of plant evolution. Artocarpus, a genus of more than 70 fruit trees in the mulberry family (Moraceae), provides a unique opportunity to answer important evolutionary questions about pollination while contributing to the development of valulable underutilized crops. Native to tropical Asia, Artocarpus contains both wild species


Invasion in the tallgrass prairie: do close relatives help or hinder? (2017)

My research focuses on understanding invasion in restored tallgrass prairies, one of the most endangered ecosystems worldwide. I am part of a team working on a plot experiment at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, IL. Broadly, we are trying to understand how phylogenetic and functional diversity affect restoration outcomes in tallgrass prairies. My focus is disentangling the effects of these two


Investigating trait plasticity in plant species native to the Colorado Plateau to understand impacts on plant community dynamics and inform restoration (2017)

Plants can change their traits or behavior depending on the conditions they are exposed to, a phenomenon known as plasticity. Plasticity helps plants cope with heterogeneous or changing environments, and can determine the outcome of competitive interactions and ultimately the structure and diversity of plant communities. For example, plants often respond to herbivore attacks by accumulating


Local adaptation of flowering phenology in common milkweed (2017)

Local adaptation is a well-documented phenomenon in plants, whereby populations evolve specialization to local environmental conditions, such as climate. The timing of life cycle events such as flowering and fruit set, also known as phenology, often displays local adaptation. As many flowering plants are pollinated by animals, aligning flowering time with pollinator emergence and activity is


Parasites and their effects on communities (2017)

Parasitic plants form connections to neighboring plants that drain their neighbors of their nutrients. This interaction often stunts the growth of the host plants being parasitized. However, this interaction may have positive effects for the parasitized host in the form of changes to its’ pollinator and herbivore interactions. We aim to investigate these indirect positive effects of parasites


Responses to climate change across species ranges: a reciprocal sowing experiment with two closely related legumes (2017)

Understanding how population dynamics function to define species geographic ranges is crucial to our understanding of species range limits and how populations can be expected to respond to large scale climate change. This project will investigate the population dynamics of a rare plant, Lespedeza leptostachya and a closely related species, Lespedeza capitata. Through a


Staying connected: How floral variation and local pollinators shape gene flow in downy Indian paintbrush (2017)

Different floral traits-- the color, shape, and scent of flowers-- can attract different groups of pollinators to flowers of a particular species. For many flowering plants, pollinators are primarily responsible for moving the genes of plants (via pollen) between different individuals, and among populations. In population genetics, the movement of gene is termed gene flow, which affects many


Defining germination tolerance ranges for three milkweeds (Asclepias spp.) (2016)

Early life stages (dormancy break, germination, and seedling establishment) are predicted to be more sensitive to climate than adult stages, potentially serving as a large bottleneck to recruitment under climate change. We predict that sensitivity to climate will also be influenced by species traits known to be associated with gene flow, such as type of breeding system and pollination syndrome


Dendrochemistry: using the analysis of archived and contemporary soil samples to document changes in soil quality in a managed area (2016)

Soil dendrochemistry, or the elemental analysis of dated soil samples, has been used to monitor historical changes in soil and atmospheric chemistry, soil development, and land-use history.  For restoration ecologists, however, this approach also provides a way to detect the long-term changes in environmental quality since variations in soil chemistry typically coincide with changes in plant


Diversity Lost: Using Herbarium specimens to investigate diversity in now extinct populations of Eastern Fringed Prairie Orchid (Platanthera luecophaea) (2016)

Project Description:


Habitat fragmentation of Midwestern prairies has lead to the loss of large tracks of once contiguous prairies. Orchids species have been particularly impacted by the loss of their habitat, which is the reason they often considered bio-indicators of high quality ecosystems and are of special conservation concern. Platanthera leucophaea (The Eastern Fringed Prairie


Dry communities of the Midwest - Plant traits that make you successful in a xeric and fragmented habitat (2016)

The gravel hills support a unique plant community more similar to short grass prairies of the West rather than mesic prairies of the surrounding areas. These habitats are often small and isolated habitats which have been naturally fragmented for many years. We are interested in what are the traits that have allowed these species to colonize these areas and persist in these areas. As these


Floral trait variation in evening primroses (Onagraceae) (2016)

The evening primrose family, Onagraceae, shows spectacular inter- and intra-specific variation in floral morphology, floral scent and mating systems. As part of a large NSF-funded Dimensions of Biodiversity project, we have documented both inter- and intra-specific variation in floral traits in 14 species of Onagraceae and have found striking intraspecific polymorphisms in many taxa. In these


From small town seeds to big city weeds: Variation in Asclepias spp. along climatic gradients and across life stages (2016)

Intern will assist in several ongoing projects investigating three milkweed species (Ascelpias spp.) across life stages and along climatic gradients. Early life stages will be examined through laboratory germination trials at Chicago Botanic Garden (CBG) and a field germination experiment at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. A second year of monitoring data will be collected from a


Integrated Conservation of an Orchid Rich Habitat in Door County Wisconsin (2016)

Door County Wisconsin lies along the Niagara Escarpment, resulting in a diverse flora, which is particularly rich in orchid species. 26 of the 49 orchid species native to Wisconsin are found at the Ridges Sanctuary in Bailey Harbor. The populations of many species found with the Ridges are slowly dwindling, and this project will focus upon the active restoration of two of these iconic species


Mycorrhizal symbioses of the Amaryllidaceae (2016)

The Amarylloids are a large and diverse group of perennial plants (59 genera, > 800 species) in the order Asparagales, and are distributed primarily in tropical and subtropical areas.  Many species are cultivated as garden ornamentals or pot plants, including the belladonna lily (Amaryllis belladonna), daffodil (Narcissus), zephyr lilies (Zephyrastrum), and ‘


Plants of Concern (2016)

Plants of Concern is a regional rare plant monitoring program designed to assess long-term trends in rare plant species. It is a flexible collaboration of public and non-governmental conservation agencies, landowners and volunteer groups, guided by an advisory group of land managers, scientists and volunteers.



Seed dormancy, germination, and seedling establishment of Lespedeza capitata and L. virginica in response to climate change (2016)

Critical components of plant replacement (regeneration) include seed dormancy loss, germination, and seedling establishment. These components, in particular, show potentially greater sensitivity to climate change then do subsequent development stages. While temperature and moisture are critical factors for these early developmental stages, other factors such a soil texture, nutrient level, pH


Smoke and Parasites... and other triggers to break seed dormancy (2016)

Dormancy allows seeds to wait out bad times and predict when conditions are most suitable for seedling establishment. Hence the triggers of seed germination will vary with ecosystem and life-history of a species. However, for many species these triggers are largely unknown. For example, for parasitic species like Comandra umbellata (an important native species in Midwestern prairie


The role of plant-microbe interactions in mediating invasions by daylilies (2016)

Daylilies are a widely planted ornamental that frequently escapes garden confines to establish large and lovely populations in natural systems.  Once established, daylilies rapidly multiply and spread to form dense patches that readily displace native plants. Many empirical studies show that plant–soil interactions (e.g. allelopathy and plant–microbe feedbacks) might explain the success of non


The role of relatedness in competition between prairie species (2016)

Do plants compete more strongly with closely or distantly related species? Does a non-native species that is closely related to a native species have a better chance of invading? Our group wants to determine if closely related species compete more strongly than distantly related species, based on the hypothesis that related species have


Assessment of Arthropod Communities of Rare and Declining Plant Taxa (2015)

Insect communities are an important part of ecological interactions, especially involving relationships with plants. Because of this importance, there are especially interesting interactions when species are rare or in decline. To get at some of these interactions, this project examines pollination biology of a threatened plant and the arthropod community of a common, but declining tree. The


Broadening definitions of plant biodiversity in restored tallgrass prairies (2015)

The tallgrass prairie ecosystem – a vast landscape of grasses and wildflowers – once dominated the Midwest. However, it’s now one of the most endangered ecosystems in North America. Ecological restoration is the only way to gain new prairie habitat, but restoring a diverse and fully functioning prairie is difficult. This summer, we will be studying metrics of plant biodiversity not usually


Developing genetically appropriate seed mixes of vulnerable plant species for restoration (2015)

Vulnerable plant species, which are often classified as rare or endangered in certain parts of their ranges, are unique in that they are neither common, nor highly threatened with extinction. However, local populations are often small and fragmented, which makes them ideal candidates for restoration. Threatened by climate change, habitat destruction, limited gene flow between fragmented


Evaluating Urban Natural Area Reconstruction and Management (2015)

Restoration of natural areas and native plant communities is challenging, especially in urban areas. Practitioners often rely on experience and anecdotal evidence when making management decisions to meet their goals. In constructed ecosystems, these rules don’t always apply. Monitoring species diversity and plant community composition is one way to quantitatively evaluate our restoration and


Hybridization concerns for restoration of threatened Indian Paintbrush (2015)

There are only 11 known populations of Castilleja levisecta in the wild. Restorations efforts by multiple institutions has seen plants being reintroduced to sites in Oregon, where until recently it was extinct, and sites in Washington and British Columbia, Canada. These restoration efforts are important part of the recovery plan for this species. Although these reintroduction seem promising,


Intraspecific traits of native prairie species (2015)

To address the loss of prairie ecosystems, ecological restoration is increasingly used to conserve native species and regain ecosystem services. However, despite decades of research and applied restoration, restored prairie habitat often falls short of remnant prairie habitat in supporting species diversity and delivering ecosystem services. Between-species and within-species functional trait


Monarch utilization of milkweed populations along an urbanization gradient (2015)

This research project examines monarch utilization of common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) populations along an urbanization gradient in and around Chicago, IL. In response to recent dramatic declines in the monarch butterfly population, a large milkweed planting initiative is underway across the nation. Milkweeds (Asclepias spp.are the obligate host plant of the


Native Plant Assessment for Restored Lake Shorelines at the Chicago Botanic Garden (2015)

Scenic water vistas and diverse aquatic habitat are defining landscape elements throughout the Chicago Botanic Garden’s 60-acre system of interconnected lakes.  Beginning in 1999, the Garden has engaged in a systematic rejuvenation of its lake shoreline using innovative bioengineering techniques.  These approaches rely heavily on dense stands of native vegetation to control erosion of fragile


Pollinator limitation and population genetics of a federally threatened orchid (2015)

Habitat fragmentation of Midwestern prairies has lead to many consequences for plant species, including disruption of plant pollinator interactions. Pollinator limitation in fragmented habitats can lead to reduced seed set, subsequent reduction of population size, and higher likelihood of inbreeding.  Additionally, orchids are of special conservation concern because they can act as bio-


Population genetics during a range expansion in the black mangrove, Avicennia germinans (2015)

Species undergoing range expansions often experience rapid population growth at the range edge. Rates of inbreeding may be high in populations at the range edge due to smaller population size and isolation. Mangroves are tropical woody plants that are currently expanding their range into more temperate zones and have doubled in area in northern Florida in the last 25 years. There are three


Scent variation: its role in attracting both pollinators and herbivores in Evening Primroses (2015)

The plant tribe Onagreae (Onagraceae; the evening primrose family) and its associated insects pollinators (Sphingidae hawkmoth) and herbivores (Mompha microlepidoptera and Hawkmoth larvae) is a model systems for studying the role of floral scent in shaping the evolution of plants and their associated organisms across western North America. Floral scent is known to be an important trait in


The invasive potential of Echinacea pallida in western Minnesota (2015)

In Minnesota, tallgrass prairie has been reduced to less than 1 percent of its original extent. Although prairie restorations have been planted to increase the extent of prairie habitat, these restorations sometimes use non-native species. For example, a prairie restoration in our study area in western Minnesota was planted with the non-native Echinacea pallida. We don't know whether


Assessing Ravine Flora (2014)

The Plants of Concern (POC) program (plantsofconcern.org) monitors and assesses long-term trends for over 200 species of the Chicago Region's endangered, threatened, and rare plants species, and provides this data to partner landowners and managers for conservation decision making. POC also contributes to regional projects aimed at understanding and


Genetic and stable isotope analyses of fungi from Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula (2014)

The objective of this project is to identify ecologically important symbiotic and saprotrophic fungi from understudied seasonally dry tropical forests in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula using cutting edge tools. The rapid development of fungal ecology as it has entered the molecular age has highlighted many remaining fundamental knowledge gaps, including the huge number of tropical fungi that have


Genetics for good: helping to conserve a rare plant in the Pacific Northwest (2014)

Plant genetics involve more than GMO crops and gene splicing! Native plants have genes, too, and they could mean the difference between a population's survival and extinction. Our research looks for possible genetic divergence between wild and reintroduced populations of Castilleja levisecta, or golden paintbrush. Golden paintbrush is a small, charismatic, hemiparasitic plant that


Green Roof Ecology (2014)

Green roofs have the potential to provide habitat and other resources for native plant and animal species in urban environments. Previous research has found that a variety of such species do use green roofs but further investigation is needed to determine how these habitats can be designed to make greater contributions to urban biodiversity conservation. This project will focus on evaluating


Impacts of Climate Change on Germination of Native Species. (2014)

Investigating Plant Regeneration Responses along an Environmental Gradient: This project aims to examine variation in tolerance range for dormancy break, germination of seeds, and establishment of seedlings, in order to compare contemporary and future regeneration within the context of climate change. Currently, very little is known about how altered environmental cues will impact plant


Impacts of tallgrass prairie restoration on decomposition and microbial communities (2014)

Natural areas are managed using aboveground methods, but these methods have profound influences on belowground processes. Decomposition is an important process that is driven by soil organisms and determines nutrient availability for next year's plant growth. This project investigates how restoration methods influence decomposition and fungal decomposer communities. Leaf litter bags containing


Interactions between a Suite of Biocontrol Weevils and the Ecosystem of Cirsium pitcheri (2014)

This project focuses on interactions between a suite of biocontrol weevils and the threatened plant, Cirsium pitcheri, and carries implications for management and biocontrol usage in the United States. Work will be split between a lab at the Chicago Botanic Garden and field sites in Door County, Wisconsin. The weevils have been used to control Cirsium, Carduus, and Centaurea species in North


Plant-herbivore interactions with hybrid Echinacea plants in native prairie (2014)

In western Minnesota, prairie restorations with the non-native Echinacea pallida have been planted near prairie remnants with the native Echinacea angustifolia. These two species are able to hybridize. Hybrid plants could threaten the native Echinacea by genetic swamping and they may not support as diverse an assemblage of insect herbivores. For instance, the native plant hosts a specialist


Scent variation: its role in attracting both pollinators and herbivores in Evening Primroses (2014)

The plant tribe Onagreae (Onagraceae; the evening primrose family) and its associated insects pollinators (Sphingidae hawkmoth) and herbivores (Mompha microlepidoptera and Hawkmoth larvae) is a model systems for studying the role of floral scent in shaping the evolution of plants and their associated organisms across western North America. Floral scent is known to be an important trait in


Soil Fungal Biomass: Its Degradation and Contribution to Soil Organic Matter (2014)

Fungi are ubiquitous in soils. However, it remains virtually unknown how dead fungal mass (fungal necromass) is degraded, and what portion of it contributes to the slow turnover of soil organic matter pools. We are interested in determining the rate of fungal necromass breakdown under a variety of scenarios (field experiments, lab experiments, breakdown by microbes, breakdown by macrofauna,


Using native winners to improve restoration outcomes on the Colorado Plateau (2014)

Restoration of habitat degraded by invasive species, wildfires, or other disturbances is occurring on a large scale in the western United States. These restoration efforts are often limited by lack of knowledge about which species will perform best in these degraded sites, and limited availability of affordable, appropriate native seeds. Research at the Chicago Botanic Garden is being carried


When seed sourcing matters for restoration on the Colorado Plateau (2014)

Ecological restoration is the process of assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged, or destroyed. One key decision that has to be made when carrying out a restoration is determining where the seed should come from. Until recently it has been assumed that local sources are best, because they are most likely to be adapted to the climate and environmental conditions


Assessing Ravine Flora (2013)

The Plants of Concern (POC) program (plantsofconcern.org) monitors and assesses long-term trends for over 200 species of the Chicago Region's endangered, threatened, and rare plants species, and provides this data to partner landowners and managers for conservation decision making. POC also contributes to regional projects aimed at understanding and conserving native flora. Lake Michigan


Decomposition and fungal diversity in restored tallgrass prairies (2013)

Natural areas are managed using aboveground methods, but these methods have profound influences on belowground processes. Decomposition is an important process that is driven by soil organisms and determines nutrient availability for next year's plant growth. This project investigates how restoration methods influence decomposition and fungal decomposer communities. Leaf litter bags containing


Morphological and molecular identification of mycorrhizal plants and fungi from the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. (2013)

In this project, an REU intern will have the opportunity to explore the community ecology of mycorrhizae (plant-fungal symbioses) in the seasonally dry tropical forests of the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. The laboratory component of this project will provide experience identifying fungal spores using microscopy, as well as identifying plants and fungi using the direct sequencing of DNA "barcode


Optimizing ecological niche models for studies of evolution in neotropical legumes (2013)

Ecological niche modeling, also known as species distribution modeling, has emerged as a powerful tool in ecology and evolutionary biology. The technique combines occurrence records of a species together with climatic or other environmental variables to produce a model of the species fundamental niche. The model is then applied to geographic space to approximate the species abiotically


Plant-insect interactions in Echinacea angustifolia (2013)

Reproduction in the purple coneflower, Echinacea angustifolia, occurs each July in western Minnesota. Peak flowering varies from year to year by several weeks. In a large experimental planting of Echinacea in a prairie restoration, we have observed that seed set starts high and declines during the flowering season. We want to know why. Do different bees species visit early and late in the


Effects of plant-community change on wetland denitrification (2012)

Eutrophication and invasive species are two of the strongest drivers of negative

ecosystem change in wetlands. In much of the Midwest, wetland degradation associated with eutrophication has promoted replacement of a native plant, Carex stricta Lam. (tussock sedge), a keystone species in sedge-meadow wetlands, with the invasive grass Phalaris arundinacea L. (reed canarygrass). Both


Effects of prairie restoration on native bee communities (2012)

In this project, we are evaluating the effects of tallgrass prairie restoration on native bee communities, which are extremely diverse in the region. In light of recent pollinator declines of honeybees and some species of bumblebees, it is important to understand what aspects of habitat restoration may benefit the 500+ species of bees native to this region.


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