INPS Research Grant Awards


The Illinois Native Plant Society offers sincere congratulations to the awardees of the 2020 Research Grant Program.

Rafael Urbina Casanova, graduate student, Northwestern University and Chicago Botanic Garden
With Co-PIs Dr. Andrea Kramer, Director of Restoration Ecology, Chicago Botanic Garden, and Dr. Jeremie Fant, Conservation Scientist, Molecular Ecology, Chicago Botanic Garden

Project: Assessing reproductive fitness on the plants of concern in the Chicago Region

The main objectives of this project are to identify populations experiencing low levels of sexual reproduction and to create a monitoring protocol of reproductive fitness that may be included in the Plants of Concern program of the Chicago Botanic Garden. In order to do so, we will assess two components of reproductive fitness, fruit and seed set, on species with outcrossing breeding systems and clonal growth. These species are reported to be more vulnerable to genetic erosion and to exhibit distorted population trends based only on counting individuals. Populations identified with low reproductive fitness will be considered as candidates for further studies on genetic rescue to reduce their local extinction risk.

Brian Charles, graduate student, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Project: Plant species composition, functional traits, and C values in restored riparian wetlands

Wetland restoration is a critical service to society, but ecosystem functions and services are often not considered in restoration evaluations. Functional traits offer a window into ecosystem functionality and could potentially be integrated into restoration evaluations to offer a way to account for ecosystem services. We will test this theory using restored wetlands throughout Illinois and compare attributes of community assembly to functional traits. We will also investigate the relationship between functional traits and coefficients of conservatism (C-values), which are numbers assigned to plant species by experts that indicate tolerance to anthropogenic disturbance. This project will provide an opportunity to ground C-values, a commonly used metric in vegetation evaluations, in physical plant characteristics. We are grateful to the INPS for giving us the opportunity to conduct research and look forward to sharing our results.

Anthony Gibson, horticulture student, Joliet Junior College
With Co-PI Andrew Neill, Professor of Biology, Joliet Junior College

Project: Floristic survey of the Joliet Junior College Main Campus

Three integrated objectives guide the Flora of the Joliet Junior College project: voucher substantiation, ecological analysis, and presentation of findings. Voucher substantiation is defined as the acquisition of a specimen for every vascular plant taxon recognized in our flora. Ecological analysis is an inventory of each zone from fen to parking lot, resulting in a full Floristic Quality Assessment (FQA). Presentation of findings will include a complete taxonomically informed flora within retrospective and contemporary ecological contexts.

Example of data entry: Lycopus americanus Muhl. American Water Weed

First Collected in 1993 in the “fen” (Zales and Podbielski #12, JJC). This plant is still extant in both our disturbed wet-mesic zones without immediate ground water seepage and our frequently burned fen. In our fen zones it is found with Pycnanthemum virginianum, Helenium autumnale, Lysimachia quadriflora, Juncus dudleyi, and Juncus torreyi. Where water passes from recovering fen and wet prairie into the main lake, it associates with Phyla lanceolata, Bidens frondosa and Cyperus strigosu.

Publications: Floristic Survey of the Joliet Junior College Main Campus, The Harbinger, Vol 37, No. 4

Stephen Packard, citizen scientist and site steward, North Branch Restoration Project

Project: Control of Solidago altissima in open oak woodlands

Solidago altissima (tall goldenrod) is native to North America but spreads aggressively and often must be actively controlled in order to support native plant diversity. Many stewards are searching for effective and appropriate control methods within oak woodlands where light levels have recently increased. Two methods that have shown anecdotal promise are mowing and interseeding native species in S. altissima patches.

This study will test the effectiveness of mowing and interseeding – used alone and in combination – at controlling S. altissima and restoring surrounding Floristic Quality. We hope to provide actionable advice to stewards looking to restore oak woodland health using accessible, cost-effective methods.

Publications: Control of Solidago altissima in Open Oak Woodlands by Karen Glennemeier, The Harbinger, Vol 38, No. 1


The Illinois Native Plant Society is pleased to announce four awards from the 2019 Research Grant Program. All four awardees are graduate students at their institutions.

David Barfknecht, Southern Illinois University

Project: Biodiversity, Community Structure Shifts, and Exotic Invasion in Xeric Forest Openings

With the funds awarded by the INPS, I will be re-conducting vascular plant surveys based on species occurrence and abundance in several natural xeric forest openings throughout southern Illinois which were originally sampled in the early 1990s. The goals of this research are to investigate temporal changes in diversity, species composition, and exotic invasion. In addition, several soil, moisture, and light parameters will be re-recorded to assess whether these variables are related to targeted temporal shifts. The research will be conducted during the summer of 2019. This research is part of a larger project including a component specifically investigating similar properties in hill prairies.

Publications: Natural Xeric Forest Openings in Southern Illinois, The Harbinger, Vol. 37, No. 3

Matthew Evans, Northwestern University and Chicago Botanic Garden

Project: Assessment of Vernal Pool Soil Seed Banks

Vernal pools, or “spring” pools, are a conservation priority in the Midwest because due to their ephemeral nature they support unique assemblages of biodiversity. Many native plant species have developed adaptations to the fluctuating hydrology of vernal pools and the decline of their habitat has left them with few options to thrive in Illinois woodlands that suffer from the invasion of European shrubs. Fortunately, vernal pools that appear devoid of vegetation may harbor a legacy of their past plant communities under your feet in the soil seed bank. My research aims to inform land managers of the restoration potential of vernal pool soil seed banks in re-establishing native vegetation in these unique and charismatic habitats.

Publications: Vernal Pool Soil Seed Banks for Use in Ecological Restoration, The Harbinger, Vol. 37, No. 4

Lauren Lynch, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Project: Effects of Pollinator Gardens on Native Bees on an Urban-Rural Gradient

As the impacts of bee declines on the conservation of native plants and the functioning of healthy ecosystems have become apparent, public involvement in pollinator conservation efforts has increased dramatically. One strategy often used by community members to contribute to bee conservation efforts is the planting of pollinator gardens. However, despite the prevalence of pollinator gardens, their effectiveness as a conservation strategy has not been formally evaluated. In this study, we will investigate the effects of pollinator gardens on native bee populations by comparing the bee communities present in pollinator gardens to those present in other types of green spaces in the greater Chicago area.

Publications: Effectiveness of Pollinator Gardens for Native Plant and Bee Conservation in Chicago, The Harbinger, Vol. 38, No. 1

Jesse Smith, Illinois State University

Project: Tallgrass vs. Hill Prairies: Floral Traits and Habitat Size Influence Pollinator Diversity

Remnant prairies are unique in that their soil microbial communities are preserved and thus the plant microbe interactions in the soil. Soil nutrients are known to affect plant growth and floral displays; however, soil microbial communities may improve (mycorrhizal fungi) or hinder (pathogen) growth or nutrient uptake. Bees are key pollinators for prairie plant species, while research shows a decline of many native bee populations. Through quantifying floral displays, sampling and behavioral observations of bees, I will test my hypotheses that floral displays of the tallgrass prairies are larger than hill prairies due to greater availability of soil nutrients and microbial community. I predict this larger floral display would affect the abundance and diversity of bee pollinators to the particular plant species. This research could assist in management of reconstructed prairies as well as remnant prairies.

Jesse Smith’s award is funded by the Central Chapter of the Illinois Native Plant Society because the project takes place primarily in the counties included in the Central Chapter. However, the project met criteria through the State INPS Research Grant Program and is considered a State award. We appreciate the Central Chapter’s contribution to the Grant Program.

Publications: Tallgrass vs Hill Prairies: Dalea purpurea Floral Traits and Habitat Area InfluencePollinator Visitation, The Harbinger, Vol. 37, No. 3


Anna Braum. The Wetlands Initiative. Investigating the spatial distribution and population characteristics of Mimulus glabratus var. jamesii (yellow monkey flower) in an Illinois seep.

The yellow monkey flower (Mimulus glabratus var. jamesii (Scrophulariaceae), is an Illinois endangered species, the habitat of which is limited to seeps in the northern and central counties of the state. The PI and the Wetlands Initiative will be studying this species at one of the few remaining locations where it is known to occur in Illinois. We will be mapping the population’s spatial distribution, estimating the population’s size and reproductive capacity, and conducting plant community surveys in order to characterize the habitat in which the species grows and to assess invasive species threats. These data will contribute to the appropriate management and conservation of this endangered species and its rare habitat in Illinois.

Emily Dangremond. Roosevelt University (Assistant Professor working with students and volunteers): Genetic diversity and phenology in Illinois starflower populations.

Starflower (Lysimachia borealis, formerly Trientalis borealis) is a boreal understory herb with some of its southernmost populations occurring in northern Illinois. Temperature may be important for setting the range limit for this species, and starflower is at risk of extirpation from Illinois due to climate change. This study will examine how genetic diversity is distributed in at-risk Illinois starflower populations using microsatellite markers. It will also examine the relationship between temperature and phenology and fecundity in starflower populations. Results will be made available to land managers, who may wish to use this information in conservation planning.

Samantha Jo Danguilan. Chicago Botanic Garden and Northwestern University (graduate student): Does variation in flowering phenology affect reproductive success?

The ecological effects of earlier and later flowering time are key to understanding how plants synchronize with other organisms. However, we know little about the fundamental biological effects of earlier and later flowering on plant reproductive success. Using a pollinator-observational study combined with hand-pollination treatments that looks at flowering in Claytonia virginica (spring beauty), I seek to assess how variation in flowering phenology, within an individual and at a population level, can affect seed production and germination. Understanding how natural variation in flowering time alters reproductive success gives us the foundation for recognizing how climate change might further exaggerate these reproductive consequences.

Jessamine Finch. Chicago Botanic Garden and Northwestern University (graduate student): How does the native plant production process affect the genetic diversity of restorations? A comparison of wild and commercially sourced milkweed (Asclepias spp.).

Many restoration efforts source plant material from native plant producers. However, commercial material may significantly differ from wild-collected material, because of genetic changes resulting from the production process and/or limited regional vendors. To ensure that habitat restorations mirror the health and resilience of natural populations, we must understand the baseline genetic diversity and structure of wild populations, and how they compare to commercial sources. To investigate potential changes in genetic diversity, I am conducting a germination experiment and molecular genetic study for wild populations and commercial seed lots of three priority restoration species: Asclepias incarnata (swamp milkweed), A. syriaca common milkweed), and A. verticillata (whorled milkweed).

Jessica Fowler. Illinois State University (graduate student): Invasion of silky bush clover (Lespedeza cuneata) in midwest prairies.

This State INPS award has been funded through the Central Chapter of the Illinois Native Plant Society

Lespedeza cuneata (silky bush clover) is a non-native legume, introduced as forage crop and cover from China. It establishes dense stands of chemically-defended foliage that inhibit digestion of insect herbivores. It has invaded a reconstructed tallgrass prairie in Hudson, Illinois, where it has been spreading and increasing in abundance over the last ten years. This summer, I will evaluate how removing L. cuneata affects intensity of herbivory on competing species by photographing leaves and using an image analysis software. Understanding the effects of L. cuneata on native communities can inform management decisions to limit its spread, which could increase diversity.

Publications: Japanese Beetles May Promote an Invasive Plant’s Advance, The Harbinger, Vol. 36, No. 3

Dr. Cecilia Hennessy. Eureka College (Assistant Professor working with students): Influence of life history and ecosystem connectivity on genetic isolation of prairie plants in original prairie remnants.

The degree to which genetic isolation and drift correspond to the geographic isolation of prairie plants in small, scattered habitat remnants likely depends on life-history factors. Using microsatellite DNA markers, we will measure genetic diversity and isolation in original prairie remnants for species with varying pollination mechanisms and life histories, including little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), pasture thistle (Cirsium discolor), and pale purple coneflower (Echinacea pallida). We will also assess evidence of gene flow among preserved prairie remnants near railroads to test whether the narrow grassland habitat corridors along railroad tracks help remnant native plant populations maintain gene flow.

Katherine Wenzell. Chicago Botanic Garden and Northwestern University (graduate student): Investigating genetic diversity and inbreeding of the state-endangered downy paintbrush (Castilleja sessiliflora).

Downy paintbrush (Castilleja sessiliflora) is endangered in Illinois but secure throughout the rest of its range in the central United States. C. sessiliflora is thought to be self-incompatible, which can threaten the persistence of small, isolated populations which may become too genetically similar to reproduce. To assess the genetic health of populations of C. sessiliflora, this project will compare genetic diversity and inbreeding among populations in Illinois compared to the rest of the range. This study will shed light on whether low genetic diversity in the region could threaten the persistence of C. sessiliflora in Illinois.

Jack Zinnen. University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana (graduate student): Assessing conservatism among wetland plants: measuring plant traits, response to mycorrhizal inoculation, and nutrient pulses.

We are grateful to receive funding from the INPS to pursue our greenhouse project investigating the ecological properties of conservatism, the core component of Floristic Quality Assessment. Conservatism characterizes a species’ relative tolerance to anthropogenic disturbance. Our project will measure the functional traits of native Illinois wetland/wet prairie plants to better-characterize the physiological patterns of conservative and non-conservative species. We will additionally expose our study species to two experimental treatments, arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi inoculation and artificial nutrient pulses (i.e. fertilizer additions), to further our understanding of how they might respond to processes in natural settings. We look forward to the results of this project and are grateful to the INPS for fostering the study and appreciation of our native flora.