Plant Functional Trait Diversity

In the United States, more than 99% of the native tallgrass prairie ecosystem has been destroyed. To address this, 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. My research will provide a better understanding of how functional trait diversity between-species and within-species can be incorporated into planning and implementing restoration projects. I will be measuring six different functional traits: maximum vegetative height, leaf dry matter content, specific leaf area, maximum root length, specific root length, root mass fraction. In addition, I hypothesize that traits will vary significantly among populations within a species, and that functional trait variation within-species will be as great as between-species. Research is taking place at the Rice Plant Conservation Science Center at the Chicago Botanic Garden, where I am working with Drs. Andrea Kramer, Evelyn Williams, and Daniel Larkin. I am a rising sophomore at Northwestern University pursuing a Biology Major with a Plant Concentration.

Harvesting Begins!

On Monday (7/20) about 100 plants were taken out of their cone-tainers and harvested to collect data. Most of the plants ready were the Rudbeckia Hirta, or Black-Eyed Susan. Only some of the Andropogon Gerardii (Big Bluestem), Zizia Aurea (Gold Alexander), and Allium Cernuum (Nodding Onion) were ready to be harvested. After the 35 day growing period the seedlings need to be taken out of the cone-tainers. The Rudbeckia Hirta plants had developed extensive root systems even in this short time and proved to be the most difficult plants to clean because they held on to a lot of the dirt from the cone-tainer. The rest of the species had not grow as expansive of a root system, but were still attached to the dirt they had grown in. Dirt cannot stay on the plants because of the resulting error in mass readings. Therefore, the dirt had to be brushed off of the roots delicately with toothbrushes, or gently massaged off under trickling water with fingers. After cleaning, the vegetative height and root length for each plant were measured with a metric ruler in centimeters, for the Allium Cernuum the small onion mass that had started forming was given a separate measurement. Then, using a petiolescissors, a leaf was snipped off of each plant – including the petiole. Each leaf sample was then weighed and scanned. After the scan, the leaf and the rest of the plant were put in a folded sheet of paper with stapled sides. After all the plants were in these paper envelopes they were put in the Herbarium dryer and will be there for 3 days. On Thursday we will take another look at these samples to take some more measurements.

The beginning of the end…

Today marks the beginning of the end of germination for the prairie restoration plants I will be working with this summer. Among the four species I am working with two are sufficiently planted and two have been partially planted in the hopes that other seeds with germinate.

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These are the seeds in agar petri dishes in an incubator to induce germination.

Initially, two or three populations of four different species of seeds were placed on agar and have gone from cold to warm environments to start the germination process.

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These are some of the different seeds on agar.

Today, most of the seeds have germinated and have been planted in cone-tainers. Already I have been recording first leaf dates as the seeds begin to grow.

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The two above pictures show sections of the cone-tainers the hold the growing plants. The toothpicks indicate which ones have a first leaf date.

As the summer goes on the plants will continue to flourish and thirty-five days from their germination I will take functional trait measurements.