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Population Biology 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


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-


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


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


Conservation genetics and ex situ management of Oglethope oak (2017)

The primary objectives of my master's thesis research are to compare the in situ and ex situ diversity of Quercus oglethorpensis (Oglethope oak) using neutral microsatellite markers, and to trial population management software (PMX) for applications in plant conservation, or more specifically, compare the effects of different ex situ


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


Inbreeding and decline in plant fitness (2017)

There are several factor that may lead to a population’s extinction, one of these is inbreeding depression. Inbreeding depression is the reduction in fitness within a population as a result of inbreeding. This is a major issue in conservation because the negative effects of inbreeding depression affect all aspects of reproduction.


This project focuses on identifying life-history traits


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


Predictive provenancing: can southern-sourced seeds be used in Midwest restoration efforts? (2017)

Rapid anthropogenic climate change is currently causing range shifts and changes in phenology for many species. Many plant populations have been shown to be adapted to local environmental conditions. Restoration managers have hence primarily sourced their seed from local areas relative to the restoration site. However, the genotypes present in these populations used as seed sources may be ill-


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


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


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


Demographic consequences of seed germination patterns in Lespedeza leptostachya (2015)

Temperature and precipitation patterns are predicted to affect the early growth rates of temperate grassland species such as Prairie Bush Clover, particularly germination responses that are critical to maintaining viable populations. Preliminary population projection models of PBC suggest that both of these factors have strong effects on the population growth rate of this species. The student


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


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-


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


Estimating Impacts of Bison Grazing on Rare Plants at the Nachusa Grasslands (2014)

The bison are coming to a prairie near you! The Nachusa Grasslands, the largest privately held reserve in northern Illinois, is bringing bison back to the prairie. The objective of this project is to collect baseline vegetation data in the year prior to bison release as part of a long-term demographic study. We will focus upon the habitat of Lespedeza leptostachya, prairie bush clover, a


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


Care for Rare (2013)

This past summer I worked as a conservation project management intern with Andrea Kramer, Executive Director of BGCI (Botanic Gardens Conservation International) to manage two different conservation projects that were in the progression/development stage. 


The first project, Care for the Rare, is a conservation effort backed by BGCI, that provides gardens all over the world with a free


Genetic variation and spatial distribution of Castilleja species along the west coast of the United States. (2013)

Castilleja is a taxonomically tricky and morphologically variable plant genus in the western United States. The species in this genus have been known to naturally hybridize and have overlapping ranges yet are considered distinct from one another. We will be comparing the genetic variation within a population of Castilleja species and among populations of Castilleja species on the west coast


Invasion by hybridization between native and non-native purple coneflowers (2013)

In western Minnesota prairie restorations have been planted near native prairie remnants. Two non-native Echinacea species (E. pallida and E. purpurea) have been planted in restorations. We want to know the extent to which the non-natives affect reproduction in the native species. Non-native pollen is hypothesized to interfere with pollination in the native and hybridization between the


Nutrient assimilation and management practice in communities of Cypripedium candidum in the Chicago Region (2013)

Orchids belong to one of the most abundant families on earth and tend to be very specific in their habitats. Many exotic species are commercially grown in greenhouses, but our local terrestrial species are not so easily domesticated. As a result, their preservation is challenging, and conventional reintroduction and restoration techniques are intractable for many species. We do know that


Plant-herbivore interactions in tallgrass prairie (2012)

Habitat change influences dynamics between plants and their insect herbivores. We are investigating interactions between the purple coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia) and insect herbivores in fragmented prairies. We have previously found interesting "bottom-up" effects of plant genotype on insect communities, including greater herbivore damage on inbred and outcrossed plants compared to


Reproductive susceptibility of prairie plants to habitat fragmentation (2012)

Many plants in fragmented prairie habitat experience reproductive failure. Self-incompatibility (SI) is the trait that is most consistently associated with reproductive susceptibility to habitat fragmentation. Worldwide, it is estimated that about 60% of plant species have some kind of SI system. The tallgrass prairie is one of the most fragmented habitats in the world, but the proportion of