INPS Research Grant Awards


Congratulations to our new cohort of Research Grant recipients who have met rigorous guidelines and whose applications were evaluated by a seven -member professional review panel.

Andrew Davies, Graduate Student (MS), Northwestern University and Chicago Botanic Garden

Project: Genetic diversity and plant fitness decline in small, rare plant populations: a case study on Synthrysis bullii

Species at the southern edge of their range have been identified as most susceptible to climate change impacts. This is especially true for rare plant species with narrow habitat specificity and small geographic range. As populations under such conditions become small and isolated, extinction risk increases with genetic diversity loss and increased inbreeding. Together, these processes can reduce fitness and increase the threat that environmental stochasticity poses. For this study, I propose to determine how populations of varying sizes differ for genetic metrics of diversity and inbreeding, and to assess how those metrics relate to changes in census size and plant fitness. To achieve this, I have selected Synthyris bullii, a midwestern endemic that is threatened or endangered in all states across its range. In Illinois, this species occupies the southern edge of its distribution in small (<50) to large (>500) populations. I propose to revisit populations surveyed by Molano-Flores in 2011, which represent this spectrum of sizes. I will visit populations to complete a 2022 census, to measure flower number, flower size, and fruit set, and to collect leaf material and fruit for genetic analysis. From collected fruits, I will calculate seed set, germination rate, and seedling survival to assess progeny fitness. To characterize climate stress tolerance, seedlings will be grown in a common garden and exposed to a drought treatment. Results will provide insight into the mechanisms behind population decline and allow managers to better address the long-term needs of small, rare plant populations such as S. bullii.

Ingrid Felsl, Graduate Student (MS), Southern Illinois University Carbondale

Project: Determining preferred microsite characteristics of a state threatened legume: Trifolium reflexum L.

Rare plants contribute to ecosystem functioning, but are often overlooked. Trifolium reflexum L. is a biennial legume listed as Threatened in Illinois due to population decline caused by habitat loss. Currently only five populations still exist in the state. The objective of this study is to determine how microsite characteristics and surrounding vegetation affect T. reflexum fitness. Ultimately, my goal is to provide information to land managers regarding how to best manage

T. reflexum populations in Illinois and surrounding areas. I plan on visiting all five known populations of T. reflexum spanning the extent of its native range in Illinois in three different habitats that it is known to occur in: tallgrass prairie, oak savanna, and upland oak-hickory forest. I will visit each population four times between April and July 2022 to record plant functional traits related to fitness. I will measure abiotic microsite characteristics and vegetation composition inside the populations as well as directly outside the populations in an effort to determine why the population extents are shrinking (or not expanding). Once the selected T. reflexum individuals senesce, I will collect their seed heads for a greenhouse experiment to be conducted in the fall 2022 and winter 2023 at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. The greenhouse study will complement the field work by seeing how T. reflexum seedlings respond to different light and water treatments, which will be based on the field measurements taken this summer.

Matt Hokanson and Erin Hokanson, co-owners and ecologists, Woods to Wetlands, LLC

Project: Turf lawn to prairie conversions: evaluating and comparing grass elimination techniques and native seeding scenarios

General awareness of ecosystem loss is increasing along with a demand for native plants in home or public landscapes. The turf grass lawn is a common urban/suburban U.S. landscape, and the idea of converting lawn into prairie is becoming a more accepted and supportive practice. Eurasian and bluegrass (Poa spp.) dominated lawn conversions to prairie is simple in theory. The grasses are eradicated or slowly replaced by native prairie plants via seeding or planting live plants and the area is maintained for weeds for a number of years. However, prairie conversions are also a long-term investment and can be costly. A common turf grass elimination method includes chemical application(s) which provides immediate results. However, if native plant establishment during the early stages of prairie conversions is poor bare soils areas are prone to weed invasions. Another practice includes seeding native prairie species directly into old fields without an initial grass elimination. Eurasian grasses are slowly weakened through precisely timed mowing or prescribed fire. Although apparently effective, this method must be repeated for years, and limited budgets may restrict its use. Focusing on replacing Eurasian grasses using native seed, which is typically the more cost-effective choice, this study aims to determine the quickest technique to establish a prairie in a turf lawn by evaluating the success of grass eradication methods and native plant emergence. Multiple seeding scenarios are also compared by evaluating native plant coverage from different prairie grass/forb ratio mixtures, seeding rates, and the presence/absence of cover crop.

Melissa Duda, Graduate Student (MS), Northwestern University and Chicago Botanic Garden

Project: Origins and natural history of the rare gentian hybrid, Gentiana x billingtonii

In North America, the tallgrass prairie is the most endangered ecosystem. Therefore, the rare flora native to prairies should receive high prioritization in regards to research and protection. Gentiana x billingtonii (Gentiana andrewsii x Gentiana puberulenta) is a rare, perennial, naturally-occurring hybrid species. It can be found where the putative parental species co-occur, which requires remnant wet and dry prairies that are sufficiently close to allow cross-pollination. The sudden appearance of these hybrids is surprising, given that G. andrewsii and G. puberulenta have existed in these habitats for a long time. The arrival of this hybrid may be due to changes in flowering phenology. Alternatively, Gentiana x billingtonii might be occupying a novel niche distinct from those of G. andrewsii and G. puberulenta. Another possibility is that due to the scarcity of G. puberulenta, it is pollen limited and willing to accept pollen from G. andrewsii via shared pollinators. The presence of this rare hybrid may have negative consequences for the parental species as ongoing hybridization can rapidly extirpate rare species. Formal research to address these concerns has never been conducted on this hybrid complex. As such, the objectives of this research are to 1) identify pollinators (assumed to be predominately Bombus) that pollinate the species’ through pollination visitation observations and 2) compare phenology, seed characteristics, and germination rates among G. x billingtonii, G. andrewsii, and G. puberulenta. This study is conservation-focused and will establish foundational knowledge necessary to understand the novel existence of G. x billingtonii.

Noah Pyles, Graduate Student (MS), Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

Project: Auxin production of root-associated bacteria in Illinois prairie orchids

Spiranthes orchids are native Illinois prairie plants that face threat due to overcollection, habitat destruction, and difficult cultivation methods. These orchids lack endosperm, a carbohydrate nutrient source which functions to feed the developing embryo, and thus rely on microbes present in the soil to successfully germinate. It is possible that these microbes are providing signals to the plants, such as auxin, an essential plant hormone that impacts root development and seed germination. Bacteria will be isolated from the roots of Spiranthes magnicamporum and Spiranthes cernua orchids and examined for auxin production. A colorimetric assay using Salkowski Reagent will be used to detect auxin in the supernatant of isolated Spiranthes root bacteria grown in tryptic soy broth. The 16s rRNA sequences from isolated bacterial colonies will be sequenced to analyze the diversity of microbes associated with Spiranthes magnicamporum roots. Arabidopsis thaliana and Spiranthes magnicamporum seeds will be grown with bacterial supernatant containing auxin to observe its effect on germination and root development. Isolated bacteria that produce auxin will be fluorescently labeled and regrown with Spiranthes magnicamporum to observe if it infiltrates or lives outside the roots. RT-qPCR will be carried out on Arabidopsis thaliana seeds that have been grown with auxin produced by root-associated bacteria to examine the expression of genes involved in germination.

Samantha Berk, Northern Illinois University (BS 2020); currently Lab technician, Dr. Holly Jones’ Research Lab, Northern Illinois University

Project: What role do graminoids play in prairie ecosystem functioning?    

Studying the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem function (BEF) allows us to better predict consequences of environmental change in endangered ecosystems such as tallgrass prairies. Despite graminoids making up a large percentage of prairie vegetation, little focus has been placed on their ability to function amidst environmental change; we especially lack data on their influence in prairies that have differing levels of functional diversity. In this study I will examine how different ratios of graminoids, graminoid functional groups, and graminoid origins affect prairie productivity and decomposition across different levels of functional diversity. I will see how the interaction between graminoids and functional diversity affect productivity and decomposition changes depending on the number of graminoids present in a prairie, whether those graminoids are C3 or C4, and whether they are native or non-native. This multi-lens approach will allow me to understand how graminoids and diversity changes impact ecosystem functions on a finer more in-depth scale than has been tackled before. My research is part of a larger BEF experiment containing non-random, realistic multi-species assemblages. The experiment will have 60 plots with 12 species each and have a gain, loss, or no change in functional diversity in relation to the initial manipulated community. The results of studying graminoids in realistic, functionally diverse assemblages will create informed decisions on plant assembly in restoration, influence biodiversity management where maintaining graminoids and their associated functions are a priority, and increase public knowledge on the value of native flora and habitats.

Susan McIntyre, Assistant Scientist, Wetland Plant Ecology, Prairie Research Institute, Illinois Natural History Survey

Project: Reproductive ecology of Polygala incarnata (Polygalaceae) in Illinois

Polygala incarnata is a species in decline along the edge of its range, including Illinois, where it is state endangered. Much loss is due to habitat conversion; however, other biotic and abiotic factors may compound threats to the species, particularly as a sparsely distributed, relatively low seed-producing annual. With only two remaining known populations in Illinois, both comprised of few scattered individuals that likely have low genetic diversity, the species is at risk of loss due to a number of threats, including stochastic events and climate change. Fortunately, some historic and adjacent sites have potential for recovery or reintroduction. To better understand the threats to remaining and potential future populations, more knowledge of the ecological needs of the species is needed. This project proposes to fill knowledge gaps in reproductive and other ecological behavior, such as insect associates and pollination systems, and compare to more abundant congeners that exhibit some of the same local scarcity. To achieve this, insect visitation surveys and pollinator exclusion will be conducted at three known P. incarnata locations: northwestern Illinois, west-central Illinois, and western Kentucky (near historic southern Illinois populations). Other empirical data will also be collected related to habitat and associates. This information may help guide management and potential reintroductions both in Illinois and in other US states and Canada where it has declined. This information may also help improve our understanding of reproductive ecology of other rare species with low abundance and sparse local distribution.


The Illinois Native Plant Society is excited to announce its 2021 roster of Research and Survey Grant recipients.

Karen Glennemeier, Senior Ecologist, Habitat Research, LLC

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 the most effective and appropriate control methods within open oak woodlands where light levels have recently increased due to ecological management. In 2020, with the support of INPS Research Grant funding, we began testing the effectiveness of controlling S. altissima with two methods that have shown anecdotal promise: the removal of plants through scything/clipping and the interseeding of native species among S. altissima patches. We scythed/clipped S. altissima at ground level in June, and in September we found a significant reduction of S. altissima abundance within scythed/clipped plots. We then clipped any remaining S. altissima stems. We spread locally-gathered seeds in September and December, and we recorded vegetation data within the plots in June and September. In 2021, we plan to repeat the vegetation monitoring to determine the extent to which S. altissima reduction persists into the next growing season and to identify any year-one effects of our treatments on plant community composition.

Cecelia Hennessy LaBonte, Assistant Professor, Eureka College, and Nicholas LaBonte, Regional Ecologist, US Forest Service

Project: Influence of life history and ecosystem connectivity on genetic isolation of native prairie plants in original prairie remnants  

Railroad corridors that contain remnant prairie vegetation may facilitate genetic connectivity among remnants and across the landscape. Using genotyping methods, we are measuring genetic diversity and isolation in original prairie remnants for species with varying pollination mechanisms and life histories. Our study species include little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum), pasture thistle (Cirsium discolor), prairie sunflower (Helianthus pauciflorus), sawtooth sunflower (H. grosseserratus), and pale purple coneflower (Echinacea pallida). In the summer of 2018, we collected 628 plant tissue samples from nine prairie remnant sites across central Illinois. In 2019-20, we extracted DNA and prepared samples for multiplex fragment analysis. We first used the MyTaq system for PCR which resulted in unusable product. After much trial-and-error, we resorted to established techniques. We predicted that the E. angustifolia markers would amplify E. pallida due to phylogeny of the two species; however, when we ran the markers with positive controls from another researcher (J. Ison) we were not able to get E. pallida to amplify, even though E. angustifolia samples did. We are currently focusing on the S. scoparium genotypes, and plan to process the other four species with genotyping by sequencing (GBS) techniques, as no markers have yet been identified for those species. We will use the resulting genotypes to 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.

Suneeti Jog, Assistant Scientist; Jason Bried, Visiting Scientist; and David Ketzner, Researcher, Illinois Natural History Survey

Project: Prioritizing sand area wetlands using floristic quality, taxonomic distinctness, and contributions to beta diversity

Inland sand areas commonly referred to as pine barrens, oak savannas, and sand prairies are found scattered across the eastern deciduous forest and western tallgrass prairie ecotone of the U.S. northeast, northern Great Lakes, and upper Midwest. Many of these areas are protected and managed and contain a diverse “wetscape”, or a diversity of wetlands across the landscape. We propose a method for prioritizing sand area wetscapes on the basis of floristic quality, phylogenetic diversity, and compositional uniqueness. We will define floristic quality by species richness, ecological conservatism, and native status; phylogenetic diversity by average taxonomic distinctness; and compositional uniqueness by statistical contribution to beta diversity. A priority wetland should have a (relatively) high floristic quality score, high average taxonomic distinctness, and strong or significant contribution to beta diversity. Wetland sites are ranked by each metric and then prioritized based on the sum of ranks. Resulting prioritizations will help to strategize protection and management actions across the wetscapes of globally and regionally rare sand areas. We will demonstrate and apply the approach by compiling comprehensive vascular plant species lists from a dozen wetlands at the Braidwood Sands Area, one of the best quality sand area remnants in Illinois (Phillippe et al. 2008

Kelly Ksiazek-Mikenas, Assistant Professor, and Norbaya Durr, Undergraduate Student, Elmhurst University

Project: Can increasing phylogenetic and microbial diversity on green roofs help conserve native forbs in Illinois?

Anthropogenic activities continue to alter habitats both globally and locally. Land use change can lead to homogeneity, decreasing biodiversity and causing extinction cascades which imperil our native plant species. Green roofs, which are specifically-engineered rooftops, have the potential to help conserve native plants, including those that are threatened or endangered. Yet, green roofs are also harsh microclimates and plant species success may be dependent upon facilitation within community assemblages. Understanding native species community and population interactions that promote facilitation may help predict which native species could benefit most from conservation-based green roof design. Facilitation in growth and survival may be provided by diverse plant communities or below-ground symbiotic microbes. Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) are known to increase germination rates, nutrient and water uptake, and photosynthesis in harsh habitats similar to green roofs. Therefore, in this investigation we will test the hypotheses that native forbs grown on green roofs will experience increased survival and growth when they are grown in (1) communities with greater plant phylogenetic diversity and (2) soil inoculated with symbiotic AMF. Our experimental design includes pairwise comparisons of ten native Illinois species grown in four diversity treatments both with and without added AMF inoculum. We will measure survival, growth, cover, and AMF infection in all treatments over one growing season. Understanding the factors that contribute to plant survival will aid in designing future green roofs to maximize their conservation potential.

Libby Shafer, Graduate Student, DePaul University

Project: Evanston Host Plant Initiative: Native Flowers for the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee

Cities are made up of a mosaic of small and fragmented habitat patches, including residential yards, which have demonstrated to be effective in increasing the abundance of pollinators when native wildflowers are grown (Goddard et al. 2010). The Rusty Patched Bumble Bee (Bombus affinis) is an endangered pollinator whose population has declined over 87% since the mid-1950s. It has historically resided in urban areas in the midwestern and eastern United States and Canada, making the Chicago region an important zone for efforts to conserve the species. B. affinis relies on at least 38 flowering native plants in Illinois, which provide foraging resources when planted in large densities with blooms throughout the growing season (FWS & DOI 2018). This socioecological research project aims to use iNaturalist and ArcGIS to map connectivity between existing and new native host plants that citizen scientists grow to help conserve B. affinis in Evanston, Illinois. Citizen scientists will submit plant and pollinator observations to iNaturalist. Crowdsourced data and geospatial mapping will enable me to analyze habitat connectivity, document pollinator visitors, and provide better foraging habitat for bees and pollinators. Because community involvement is essential for urban conservation efforts, I will survey and interview participants to understand whether or not people view their yards as spaces for conservation, and if this planting project will shift their perception of the role they can play in urban pollinator conservation. This project partners with Natural Habitat Evanston, a local organization that plans to continue the project beyond my thesis.

Alexandra Touloupas, Graduate Student, Northwestern University and Chicago Botanic Garden

Project: Climate Change, Habitat Suitability Modeling and Illinois Rare Plants

Protecting rare species through conservation and monitoring is crucial to preventing their extinction. Habitat suitability modeling (HSM) can improve the efficiency of these efforts through geospatial analysis of rare plant niche dynamics. I propose using HSM to determine the potential distribution of Illinois bog and fen rare plant species. HSM uses known occurrence data and ecological niche requirements to statistically predict the potential distribution of rare plant species habitat in GIS. Statistical analysis through modeling can quantify how certain environmental variables such as temperature or precipitation influence the presence or absence of a species. HSM maps the required environmental variables and locates matching habitats in geographic space.

Modeling rare species can increase the accuracy and efficiency of demographic monitoring by isolating areas of suitable habitat for more targeted survey efforts. This modeling helps to visualize rare plant distribution and occurrence patterns, offering insight into rare species dynamics that are not obtainable through field observations alone. This is especially important as nearly 80% of rare and endangered plants in Illinois are predicted to experience declines due to climate change (Milano-Flores et al, 2018). The data collected through HMS can help determine the current status of Illinois rare species and how they might tolerate the impact of climate change in the future. Climate variables such as temperature and precipitation are predicted to change in the future and may surpass the threshold for rare species persistence. Insight into the niche requirements and distribution of rare plants can provide more targeted monitoring efforts and conservation goals.


Christopher Benda, Botanist

Project: Existence and Recovery Surveys for Heteranthera reniformis, Kidneyleaf Mud Plantain, and Styrax americanum, American Snowbell Bush, in Illinois

Heteranthera reniformis is a rare annual plant that occurs in shallow water and mudflats. It is a state endangered species and Hill (2006) refers to three occurrences in Illinois, in Alexander, Pope and Union counties. This species could easily be misidentified as Heteranthera multiflora and sometimes they occur together (Hill 2006). They are best distinguished by floral characters; H. multiflora has purple filament hairs and H. reniformis has white filament hairs, according to the Flora of North America. Additionally, recent studies indicate two additional Heteranthera species, H. missouriensis and H. pauciflora, are closely related to H. reniformis (Horn 2002). H. missouriensis is reported to occur in St. Clair and Union counties and little is known about this rare plant in Illinois. There is much to find out about Heteranthera species in Illinois. Extensive surveys in suitable habitat may result in new populations and a better understanding of the genus in Illinois.

Styrax americanum is a rare shrub that occurs primarily in the swamps of the coastal plain of southern Illinois, but also in wetlands near the Wabash River, and there is one isolated population in the Kankakee Sands area. It is a state threatened species that occurs in 11 counties in Illinois. It is easily identifiable, especially when flowering or fruiting. A comprehensive survey is recommended to ascertain the status of this species in Illinois because there may be many healthy, sizable and protected populations in Illinois to warrant delisting.

Jim Johannsen, Director of Land Conservation, Jo Daviess Conservation Foundation, and William Handel, Plant Ecologist/Botanist/Restoration Consultant

Project: An Existence Survey of Rosa acicularis and a Recovery Survey of Circaea alpina

The investigators will conduct an existence survey of both element occurrences (Eos) of Rosa acicularis and will conduct a recovery survey of both EOs of Circaea alpina. In addition, two reports of C. alpina occurrences that are not contained in the Illinois Natural Heritage Database will be investigated.

Susan McIntyre, Assistant Researcher Illinois Natural History Survey (conducting the survey project as an independent researcher)

Project: Milking the records: Conducting existence surveys for pink milkwort (Polygala incarnata) in Illinois

This project will consist of surveys of historic and potential new occurrences of Polygala incarnata (pink milkwort), a state endangered plant species in Illinois. The full historic distribution of P. incarnata in Illinois is unknown, but populations have greatly suffered from loss of prairie habitat, reduction of burning, and encroachment by woody and invasive species, as well as native competitors. The remaining isolated populations are spread across the state, potentially subjecting them to loss of genetic diversity, unavailability of pollinators and seed dispersers, and increased susceptibility to destruction from environmental stochasticity, herbivory, and pathogens. In addition, the species’ small stature, far-flung distribution, and highly variable annual occurrence have made regular censusing difficult. Using historic records and GIS analysis of potential habitat, this project will attempt to improve understanding of the current status of pink milkwort in Illinois and its potential for recovery or management where it is still found.


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.

Climate Change and Starflower in the Midwest, The Nodding Onion, October 2019
Phenological responsiveness and fecundity decline near the southern range limit of Trientalis borealis (Primulaceae), Plant Ecology

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.

Publications: How does flower-timing affectreproductive success in a woodlandspring ephemeral?, The Nodding Onion, July 2019

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.