Friends of Nachusa Grasslands 2017 Scientific Research Grants – $32,000
To support scientific endeavors, the Friends of Nachusa Grasslands awards monetary grants to qualified candidates conducting scientific research significant to Nachusa Grasslands.
Research projects focus primarily on prairie, savanna, wetland, woodland, and stream habitat management such as prescribed fire, seed collection, weed control, general or specific flora or faunal populations, and natural areas restoration.
The Friends of Nachusa Grasslands budgeted $22,000 for its Science Grants in 2017, but was able to increase that amount to $32,000 thanks to a generous matching challenge grant by an anonymous donor. The $5,000 match challenge was met by a group of Friends members and supporters after it was announced at the annual meeting in July. This additional money allowed the Science Grant Committee to encourage and support to an even greater degree the excellent proposals it received.
Donations to Friends can be designated to Scientific Research Grants.
2017 Grant Recipients, Projects, and Amounts
Laura Adamovicz, DVM, PhD graduate student, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, “Continued Health Assessment of Nachusa’s Ornate Box Turtles” – Dr. Adamovicz is going to continue her 2016 work assessing the health of the ornate box turtles (Terrapene ornata) at Nachusa. This work will help direct conservation strategies for the species at the preserve. It will also provide baseline data for use with other populations of this species in other preserves. This grant will specifically pay for the measurement of hemoglobin-binding protein levels which is a measure of trauma, inflammation, and infection. ($2,673)
Bethanne Bruninga-Socolar, PhD graduate student, Rutgers University, “Effects of Bison on Plant-Pollinator Interactions at Nachusa.” Over the last four years, Ms. Bruninga-Socolar and Sean Griffin have built a data set focusing on the bee populations in the restored areas of Nachusa and surrounding alternative land use areas. This study will continue using that data set to study the effects of bison reintroduction on species-specific plant pollinators by comparing pollinator interactions in prairie with bison to prairie without bison. ($5,000)
Linda Curtis, M.S. Independent Consulting Botanist, “Sedges of Nachusa Grasslands" – Ms. Curtis will be conducting a survey of Nachusa sedge species using a digital micro-imaging technique. The goal is to provide a collection of sedge images to assist stewards in the identification and seed collection of Nachusa sedge species. ($2,000) [See page 15 of The Harbinger, the December 2017 newsletter of Illinois Native Plant Society, for "Carex Corner #9: Groovy Sedges" by Linda Curtis.]
Kirstie Feller, M.S. graduate student, Northern Illinois University, “Evaluating the Effects of Excluding Coyotes on Small Mammals and Vegetation in Restored Prairie”– Ms. Feller will be studying the impact of coyotes on prairie communities including the consequences of predator exclosures in restored prairie. Specifically, she will be quantifying the diet of coyotes as well as measuring cortisol and carbon-to-nitrogen ratios (measures of fear) in prey (small mammals) in areas both inside and outside the predator exclosures to in turn measure how that is reflected in litter quality and microbial decomposition. This study will provide useful information on possible unintended consequences of exclosures and may provide insight into coyote predation on the state-listed ornate box turtles and Blanding’s turtles. ($1,500)
Megan Garfinkel, PhD graduate student, University of Illinois at Chicago, “Can Bird-Provisioned Pest Control Integrate Agriculture and Prairie Bird Conservation?”– This grant will support Ms. Garfinkel’s ongoing study of the pest control services and disservices prairie birds provide on nearby farms. The goal is to determine whether the bird conservation value of Nachusa’s prairie restorations can be enhanced by demonstrating to nearby landowners that “wildlife-friendly” management practices can be economically beneficial. Specifically, Ms. Garfinkel is (among other techniques) tracking birds to determine where they eat, setting up bird exclosures over crops to prevent bird predation of insects, and using molecular techniques to identify the insect prey of birds through DNA in the birds’ fecal samples. This grant will help support the unique and novel DNA analyses being developed at UIC for this study. ($2,000)
Sean Griffin, PhD graduate student, North Carolina State University, “Effects of Ecological Restoration on Native Bee Population Structure and Genetic Diversity” – This study will focus on the effects of restoration and habitat connectivity at Nachusa on the gene flow and genetic diversity of three species of native bees in order to determine whether restoration improves the genetic health and overall viability of these bee populations. Genetic diversity is important for long term sustainability of any species, but it has not been studied in most plants and animals in restorations. This study using DNA analysis techniques only recently developed at Pennsylvania State University and North Carolina State University will provide insight into whether or not restoration efforts at Nachusa are effective in connecting bee populations and enabling gene flow across the landscape. ($5,267)
Heather Herakovich, PhD graduate student, Northern Illinois University, “Grassland Birds’ Response to Restoring Historic Tallgrass Prairie” – This is the fourth year of a study of grassland bird nest density, nest success, and species composition in restored plots of varying age as well as remnant control prairies. Ms. Herakovich is attempting to quantify the effects of bison reintroduction, prescribed fire, and restoration age on grassland bird populations at Nachusa. ($3,200)
Sheryl Hosler, M.S. graduate student, Northern Illinois University, “Dung Beetle Functional Traits Related to Restoration Management Practices” – This project will examine how restoration management practices like prescribed fire, grazing, and mesopredator (coyotes, raccoons, etc.) exclosures affect dung beetle functional traits. The results will provide insight into how management techniques inhibit or promote dung beetle functioning within the ecosystem. This study is part of the ReFuGE Project initiated by researchers at Northern Illinois University encompassing long-term ongoing research at Nachusa. ($1,000)
Richard King, PhD, Northern Illinois University, Thomas B. Anton and David Mauger, Independent Researchers, “Developing Blanding’s Turtle Management Strategies at Nachusa” – This research will build on the previous work done by this team at Nachusa which documented occurrence, habitat use, and nesting by the state endangered Blanding’s Turtle. This year’s work will focus on developing on-the-ground management strategies focused on nest protection (to promote juvenile recruitment) and movement in the landscape (to identify both wetland and upland areas in need of protection). ($5,000)
Wayne Schennum, PhD, Independent Scholar, “Survey of Remnant-Dependent Butterflies at Nachusa Grasslands” – Dr. Schennum will determine the number and relative abundance of butterfly species restricted to tracts of remnant and restored prairie, savanna, and wetland at Nachusa Grasslands. His survey results will be compared to that conducted thirty years ago at the preserve’s inception. He will also analyze the vegetation composition and structure relative to the butterfly populations he finds which may lead to new management choices. Additionally, he plans to develop a method for tracking trends in remnant-dependent butterfly species as management continues into the future. ($2,000)
Nicholas Steijn, M.S., Northern Illinois University, “Effects of Management on Small Mammals and Their Resource Bases” – Mr. Steijn will be investigating the effects of invasive plant removal via herbicide application on the abundance and diversity of small mammals and seed density. The study will provide insight into how this management technique may change community composition and population dynamics of these primary consumers in the ecosystem. ($1,500)
Katherine Wenzell, PhD. graduate student, Northwestern University, “Pollination Ecology and Genetics of Downy Painted Cup in Illinois” – This study done in conjunction with the Chicago Botanic Garden will examine the pollination ecology, reproductive success, and genetic diversity of the state-endangered downy painted cup (Castilleja sessiliflora) in Illinois. By comparing a restored population at Nachusa Grasslands with a natural population in northeastern Illinois, this study will shed light on the success of the Nachusa restoration in supporting this endangered wildflower species. Specifically, this grant supports the DNA analysis of samples collected at Nachusa.($860)
Current and past research projects supported by the Friends are listed on each year's Science Grants page: