2019 Nachusa Grasslands Science Symposium Speaker and Poster Abstracts
The REstoring FUnction in Grassland Ecosystems (Refuge) Project: Impacts of bison, fire, and restoration age to food webs and ecosystem function Holly Jones, PhD, Associate Professor, Dept. of Biological Sciences, Northern Illinois University (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Our team has been working to quantify the impacts of bison, restoration age, and fire on ecosystem functioning (biomass, soil nutrients, decomposition) and plants and animals since 2013. This talk will cover what our team has found, and what we are looking to do in the future. Specifically, responses of plants, dung beetles, ground beetles, small mammals, and birds will be presented. Results on bison diet, as revealed through stable isotope analysis will be presented. In short, this talk will give a whole-ecosystem perspective on the impacts of management at Nachusa Grasslands.
Resilience-based site assessment tool to guide and prioritize oak savanna restoration practice Eric Chien, MSc candidate, Conservation Sciences Graduate Program, and Susan Galatowitsch, Professor, University of Minnesota (email@example.com).
Diagnosing the recovery constraints and characterizing recovery potential for a prospective restoration site is a challenging and influential early step in the restoration process. Assessing ecological resilience has the potential to provide insights for answering fundamental questions faced early in any restoration project. How is the site different from the intact ecosystem? How challenging will it be to restore? What site attributes contribute to the difficulty or ease of that recovery? This research used Midwestern Oak Savannas as a pilot ecosystem to explore the design and use of a resilience-based site assessment tool for oak savanna restoration. Using case history information and field data from Nachusa Grasslands and fifty other oak savanna restorations across the Midwest, a rapid site assessment tool was designed to support the ability of practitioners to consider and make conclusions about site recovery potential. The tool was tested for its ability to accurately and consistently support decision making around three key conclusions: 1) identifying if a restoration site contains multiple areas with practically relevant differences in recovery potential, 2) characterizing the current condition of the site, and 3) determining the relative recovery potential. Findings from usability and validity field trials of the tool highlight the usefulness of a structured process for considering and drawing transparent conclusions about site recovery potential. Results also identified the key challenges to designing a site assessment that ensures valid conclusions within practically operational time limits. The oak savanna resilience-based site assessment tool shows promise in supporting practitioner decision-making during the influential step of diagnosing site recovery potential.
Controlling Lonicera Maackii (Amur Honeysuckle): Basal Bark and Prescribed Fire Efficacy and Impacts Kaleb Baker, MSc, Dept. of Biological Sciences, Northern Illinois University and Illinois Audubon Society. Advisor: Barber.
Lonicera maackii is a non-native shrub that has invaded eastern and midwestern North American deciduous forests, altering the ecosystem functions and reducing biodiversity. Managers tasked with controlling L. maackii, being resource limited, require effective methods that are quick and easy to use without inflicting extensive nontarget damage. This study explores prescribed fire and seasonal basal applications of triclopyr as control methods and examines their extent of off-target damage. Paired-split plots were established to implement seasonal basal bark treatments within burned and unburned units where individual L. maackii were tracked to determine mortality and the hyperlocal impacts of management. Basal bark treatments were found to kill 98.4% of L. maackii without regard to the dormancy status of L. maackii. Off-target cover was reduced similarly for all herbicide application seasons while richness and Shannon diversity showed statistically different seasonal impacts but were biologically small. Prescribed fire did not impact L. maackii mortality, interact with herbicide efficacy, or alter the extent of off-target damage post-treatment. Basal bark applications of triclopyr are an effective means of control, unrelated to application timing.
Population Dynamics of a Rare and Common Congener in the Tallgrass Prairie: Differential Effects of Fire and Simulated Grazing Using Grass-specific Herbicide Pati Vitt, PhD, Manager of Ecological Restoration, Forest Preserves District of Lake County, Michele Schutzenhofer, Mckendree University, and Tiffany Knight, Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (Germany).
Grassland ecosystems are endangered, especially in North American where habitat conversion has reduced prairie to a fraction of its former extent. In order to ensure the diversity and stability of these habitats, it is necessary to understand how individual species respond to grassland management activities such as fire and grazing. We compare the demographic responses of sympatrically growing species of Lespedeza, one common and broadly distributed and one rare and narrowly endemic, to fire and grazing in a tallgrass prairie remnant. Both L. capitata and L. leptostachya exhibit positive responses to fire and simulated grazing, presumably in response to reductions in grass cover. However, L. capitata responded very strongly to our disturbance treatments, especially fire, with increased seedling survivorship and recruitment, and a greater population growth rate. In contrast, the rare L. leptostachya actually outperformed its native congener in the absence of fire and grazing but had the highest population growth rate when exposed to simulated grazing. Thus, the rare and common species have their highest growth rates under different treatments. Our results illustrate how population-level effects underlie changes in species abundances in response to management. Their differential responses lead us to conclude that we cannot infer how any given species will respond to management, even between congeners, meaning that management needs to be applied specifically for individual species to achieve the desired community composition.
Pollinator visitation rates and fruit set of the state-endangered downy paintbrush (Castilleja sessiliflora) in Illinois and the surrounding region Katie Wenzell, PhD candidate, Dept. of Plant Biology and Conservation, Northwestern University/Chicago Botanic Garden. Advisor: Fant & Skogen.
Native plants in Illinois face numerous anthropogenic threats, including loss and fragmentation of habitat and the potential for low reproductive success if pollinators are absent or unreliable. Restored prairie habitats seek to address these threats, but much remains unknown about their success in restoring ecosystem services such as pollination to plant populations. In order to investigate the threats facing one state-endangered plant and the role of prairie restorations in managing such a species, we investigated whether the state-endangered plant Castilleja sessiliflora is experiencing low reproductive success, potentially due to low pollinator visitation, in Illinois (at remnant and restored populations) and in the surrounding region. We examined pollinator visitation rates and fruit set of C. sessiliflora in Illinois and the surrounding region to test whether these measures differ at restored and remnant populations at Nachusa Grasslands in Illinois and across the Midwest. Overall, pollinator visitation rate was variable within Illinois and more moderate at populations elsewhere in the Upper Midwest. Visitation rate was highest at the Nachusa Remnant population, but this did not translate to correspondingly high fruit set. Fruit set was lower in Illinois compared to other populations in the region but was higher at the remnant population at Nachusa than either of the other populations in Illinois.
Moths and Grasshoppers/Katydids of Nachusa Grasslands Wayne Schennum, PhD, consulting ecologist.
Nachusa Grasslands is one of the Midwest’s largest remnants of the prairie ecosystem that once dominated the landscape here. The Nature Conservancy has devoted considerable effort over the past 30 years acquiring and restoring it, following over 100 years of agricultural use. This effort has focused on creating an ecosystem capable of supporting both the plants and animals of the prairie, including insects. In 2019, 9 sites — 5 upland prairies, 2 wetlands, 1 savanna, 1 woodland — were surveyed for moth and grasshoppers/katydids on 10 visits from mid-May to mid-October. Bucket traps, black lights, and bait were used to capture moths at night. Grasshoppers and katydids were collected at black lights and using sweep nets during the day. One focus of the study was to determine the presence of species restricted to Nachusa’s natural communities (remnant-dependent). The other was to determine the total diversity of the taxa studied. Because there are thousands of moth species, the major groups studied were sphinx, underwing, stem-borer, and flower moths. Over 200 species of moths and 25+ species of grasshoppers and katydids were collected. Among the moths, 13 underwings, 9 sphinx, and a significant number of flower and stem-borers. Examples include the following: the lead plant flower moth (on 4 upland prairies!); a stem-borer restricted to Joe pye Weed; and 2 underwings limited to lead plant and several whose larvae feed only on oaks and hickories. Example grasshopper/katydids are two colorful grassland band-winged grasshoppers and 5 species of large grassland conehead katydids. It is evident that Nachusa Grasslands is providing significant habitat for the insect taxa studied here.
What lies beneath... the prairie Wesley Swingley, PhD, Associate Professor, Dept. of Biological Sciences, Northern Illinois University.
More than 30 years after its inception, the Nachusa grasslands restoration is a robust and diverse landscape, hosting plants and animals that thrive away from the tractor and plow. But an even more drastic transformation has occurred beneath the surface, where returning native prairie plants have established all-encompassing root and fungal networks in concert with the bacterial populations that cycle and recycle the nutrients that maintain these complex ecological networks. Over the past seven years we have catalogued the diversity of these microbes every Spring, Summer, and Fall, monitoring both the population changes within each growing season, but also from year to year as the restored fields age and mature. These studies have seen the addition of several new restorations (in 2012, 2013, and 2016) as well as the introduction and expansion of bison herds, a major driver of community diversity at all trophic levels. This presentation will discuss all of our findings to date, including the implications of restoration efforts on soil microbial communities (and vice versa), the interplay between time and diversity, and the future of this restoration and others like it.
Soil Aggregation Fractions and Soil Organic Carbon (SOC) Content in Four Land Use Types and SOC Distribution by Depth Xiaoyong Chen, Mary Carrington, professors, and Scott Carlock, MSc. candidate, Program in Environmental Biology, Governor’s State University. Advisor: Carrington & Chen.
The impact of soil carbon sequestration and soil aggregation are important when considering their role in an ecosystem due to soil being the largest source of carbon sequestration on the planet, greater than that of plants and the atmosphere combined. Many factors influence the structure and stabilization of soil. Various land use types and soil depths may affect soil organic carbon (SOC) content and aggregate size. This may also be affected by the age of the remnant, soil depth, and land use. The vertical distribution of soil and the role of plants on carbon distribution is still poorly understood. In this study, soil samples were taken at 0-10 cm, 10-20 cm, and 20-30 cm depths in prairie remnants, savanna, woodland, and wetland restorations. Aggregates were fractionated to >1 mm, 1-0.25 mm, 0.25-0.53 mm, and <0.53 mm. It is predicted that SOC content will be highest in topsoil, and will decrease with depth due to decreased organic matter. It is also predicted that aggregate size will be greatest is prairie, followed by savanna, woodland, and wetland, but preliminary results shows that prairie is followed by woodland, savanna, and then wetland. This may be due to the age of the savanna restoration relative to the other land use types.
Mycorrhizal fungi community and population genetics of Comandra umbellata, Emma Leavens, MSc candidate, Dept. of Plant Biology and Conservation, Northwestern University/Chicago Botanic Garden. Advisor: Mueller.
Comandra umbellata, a monotypic hemiparasitic plant species, is found primarily in high quality grasslands and is credited with increasing plant species diversity. Despite broad interest in using this species as a restoration tool, little is understood about its preferred establishment conditions and reproductive success. This project identified patterns between established C. umbellata sub-populations with another important component of diverse grasslands, arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi communities, as well as patterns of genetic diversity of C. umbellata across a population.
When do Ornate Box Turtles emerge from hibernation? Informing timing of prescribed burns at Nachusa Grasslands Devin Edmonds, MSc candidate, Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. Advisor: Dreslik
The ornate box turtle (Terrapene ornata) is a threatened species in Illinois, with only a handful of remaining populations in the state. One of the largest populations is at Nachusa Grasslands, however, there is no data on when turtles emerge from hibernation at this site. This poses a problem for land managers because there is a risk turtles could be impacted by prescribed burns if they are active above ground during fires. To learn when and under what conditions turtles emerge from hibernation, we attached radio transmitters and temperature data loggers to 10 individuals in May 2019. We also installed temperature data loggers in soil at varying depths. Using telemetry, we will locate hibernation sites and monitor when turtles first emerge. We will also learn at what depth turtles hibernate by analyzing data from temperature loggers and also investigate a relationship between temperature and timing of emergence. Results from this study will inform managers at Nachusa Grasslands when to carry out prescribed burns without risk of harming turtles.
Venous blood gas in ornate box turtles (Terrapene ornata ornata) Laura Adamovicz, PhD, DVM, postdoctoral researcher, School of Veterinarian Medicine, University of Illinois at Champaign- Urbana Advisor: Allendar.
Conservation success is highly dependent upon population health. Many tools can be used to assess population health, including clinical pathology, pathogen surveillance, and toxicological screening. While these tests enable a broad understanding of overall health, they provide very little information on respiratory and metabolic function — which are unique in reptiles. The purpose of this study was to evaluate venous blood gas as a diagnostic test in ornate box turtles (Terrapene ornata ornata) at Nachusa. We found that ornate box turtle physiologic responses depend on external factors such as temperature and adrenergic stimulation, and that their acid-base status is similar to other chelonians. These results complement our long-term study of ornate box turtle health at Nachusa, and identify the potential utility of blood lactate concentrations for health assessment in this species.
Head-starting: A New Phase in Nachusa Blanding’s Turtle Management Richard King, PhD, Associate Professor, Dept. of Biological Sciences, Northern Illinois University, Dave Mauger, Natural Resource Consulting, Tom Anton, Ecological Consulting Group, LLC, Jessica Fliginger, Laboratory Assistant, Northern Illinois University, Brian Towey, Richardson Wildlife foundation, Cody Considine, and Elizabeth Bach, TNC Nachusa Grasslands.
Blanding’s turtle management at Nachusa Grasslands has entered a new phase with the initiation of a head-start program. During the 2019 nesting season, 80 Blanding’s turtle eggs were collected from Nachusa Grasslands (41 eggs from 5 females) and Richardson Wildlife Foundation (39 eggs from 3 females). Following collection, the eggs were transported to the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County for incubation. Seventy-eight of these eggs were fertile. and the hatchlings, currently being reared by the Forest Preserve District of Lake County, will be released at Nachusa and Richardson during 2020. The goal is to increase survival during the vulnerable egg and hatchling stages, thereby increasing juvenile recruitment rates. Head-starts will be monitored using radio telemetry, providing vital information on habitat use, growth and survival and informing future head-starting and release strategies.
Assessing Intestinal Microbial Ecology of Bison and linking microbial community dynamics to environmental factors Pallavi Singh, PhD., Assistant Professor, Dept. of Biological Sciences, Northern Illinois University.
Introduction of Bison bison to Nachusa Grasslands may have important ecological impact on the ecosystem and vice versa on bison health. The American bison consume varied diet based on availability and affected by a multitude of factors including soil, water and seasonal variation. These variations may thus impact intestinal microbial community dynamics of bison. To assess these impacts on bison intestinal community we collected fecal samples and recto-anal junction swabs from animals (N=120) during 2019 and 2020 (N=145) during the annual-round up organized Nachusa Grasslands staff. In addition, for identifying factors that affect gut microbial communities, we collected bison fecal samples in March and June 2019 from multiple sites. Further, water samples from creeks, that bison have access to, were also collected during these times simultaneously. The microbial community dynamics will be assessed using 16S rRNA gene sequencing. Seasonal and dietary changes that in turn changes the microbiota may also lead to increase in enteric pathogen load, some of which may also affect humans. Gene sequencing will allow identification of microbial markers that aid in colonization of these pathogens in the animal gut. As a result, we will identify factors that affect bison health, environmental interplay in pathogen transmission, and steps to identify better herd practices.
Environmental Factors Influencing Mosquitoes in Wetland and Low Order Streams at Nachusa Grasslands Preserve Michele Rehbein, PhD candidate, Institute of Environmental Studies, Western Illinois University. Advisor: R.C. Viadero.
This study aims to identify mosquitoes and characterize and compare physical, chemical, and biological properties of mosquito larvae habitats. Mosquito traps were placed within Nachusa Grasslands Preserve in Franklin Grove, IL. Sites included a wetland and low order streams: Meiners Wetland, Franklin Creek, Clear Creek, and a culvert entering the preserve. Mosquito adults and eggs were collected twice a week from May through October. Stream velocity and water quality were measured each month while air temperature and light intensity were recorded hourly throughout the field season. Eggs were allowed to hatch and adults were identified and counted along with field-captured adults.
Mosquitoes were sorted and identified to species and stored at -20°C. Thoraxes and abdomens of female mosquitoes were separated and organized for various laboratory analyses. RAMP® West Nile virus (WNV) Test was completed to determine and quantify the amount of virus in mosquitoes collected. DNA extraction and PCR were completed on mosquitoes from each site and sequenced to determine host blood meals.
The 2019 field season yielded 672 mosquitoes, consisting of 14 species, including an invasive mosquito species, Aedes (Ae.) japonicus, which had not been collected from the sites prior to the 2019 field season. A new record of Uranotaenia (Ur.) sapphirina was also established in the preserve within the Lee County boundary. To date, 3,017 Ae. eggs were collected. All eggs hatched currently have been identified as Ae. triseriatus, the tree-hole mosquito. Compared to 2018, a total of 4,117 mosquitoes, 16 species, and 1,896 Ae. eggs were collected. This research will continue during the winter months to complete laboratory work as needed.
Restoration Management Practices Affect Dung Beetle Functional Traits in Tallgrass Prairie Sheryl Hosler, MSc, Department of Biological Sciences, Northern Illinois University and Nick Barber, PhD, Asst. Professor, Dept. of Biological Sciences, San Diego State University.
The restoration of degraded ecosystems often focuses on reestablishing species richness and diversity of native organisms, especially plants. However, functional trait descriptions of communities are emerging as a more comprehensive approach to evaluating restorations, including consumer communities. We examined the species composition and functional traits of dung beetle (Coleoptera: Scarabeidae) communities across a chronosequence of restored tallgrass prairie in Illinois, in which sites varied in the presence of bison and the application of prescribed fire during the study. Data were collected on behavioral guild and body measurements, and functional diversity metrics (functional richness, evenness, divergence, and dispersion) were analyzed using generalized linear models. We also performed a dung decomposition experiment to measure an ecosystem function driven by these insects. Bison sites had higher beetle abundance and species richness than non-bison sites. Shannon diversity increased with site age, as did functional evenness (FEve). Functional richness decreased with the presence of bison, the presence of fire, and increased with site age. Dung decomposition was greater in unburned prairie sites, and in sites with higher Community Weighted Mean dry mass of dung beetles. Our research reinforces the use of dung beetles as indicators of functional restoration in grasslands. We recommend that restoration managers consider the arthropod community and its functional characteristics when making management decisions.
Moths of Nachusa Grasslands Richard Teper, Citizen Scientist.
In 2019, 9 sites spanning 4 habitats at Nachusa Grasslands — 5 upland prairies, 2 wetlands, 1 savanna, 1 woodland — were surveyed for moth and grasshoppers/katydids on 10 visits from mid-May to mid-October. Bucket traps, black lights, and bait were used to capture moths at night. One focus of the study was to determine the presence of species restricted to Nachusa’s natural communities (remnant-dependent). The other was to determine the total diversity of the taxa studied. Because there are thousands of moth species, the major groups studied were sphinx, underwing, stem-borer, and flower moths. Over 200 species of moths and 25+ species of grasshoppers and katydids were collected. Among the moths, 13 underwings, 9 sphinx, and a significant number of flower and stem-borers. Examples include the following: the lead plant flower moth (on 4 upland prairies!); a stem-borer restricted to Joe pye weed; and 2 underwings limited to lead plant and several whose larvae feed only on oaks and hickories.
The Soundscape of Nachusa Grasslands: Observations of Regional Variation in Dog-day Cicada Choruses Katie Dana, PhD candidate, Dept. of Entomology, University of Illinois at Champaign- Urbana. Advisor: S. Heads.
Nachusa Grasslands is home to three related species of "dog-day" cicadas — Neotibicen pruinosus, N. canicularis, and N. linnei. Dog-day cicadas are annual cicadas so named due to their tendency to call on the hottest days of summer. The three species found at Nachusa are morphologically very similar and can be difficult to identify visually; however, the calls of male cicadas are species specific. These male choruses allow females to locate a potential mate. These three species have unique distributions but overlap geographically in portions of their range, including at Nachusa Grasslands. In this study we are investigating whether male cicadas segregate their calls temporally or by calling at different frequencies in areas that they overlap, or both. We also will be looking for any evidence of hybrid calls, as hybrids of other dog-day cicadas have been reported in other species. Audio recorders were placed in two areas of Nachusa Grasslands and at different regions of Illinois, including Henry A. Gleason Nature Preserve (Mason Co.) and Fults Hill Prairie Nature Preserve (Monroe Co.). Preliminary data will be presented on timing of cicada calls across the day and how spectrograms of their calls compare to recordings from elsewhere in the state.
Calling Frog Survey at Nachusa Grasslands Susan Kleiman and Paul Swanson, Nachusa Calling Frog Survey Team.
Citizen Scientists at Nachusa Grasslands have been monitoring frogs and toads using the “Calling Frog Survey” protocol that was developed for the Chicago Wilderness Region. We have been using it at Nachusa Grasslands since 2012. Nachusa has seven frog species and one toad species and possibly two other frog species. We have two volunteer monitors and could use one more.
Effects of hemiparasites’ life history on community and soil nutrient distribution Anna Scheidel, M.S. candidate, School of Biological Sciences, Illinois State University. Advisor: V. Borowicz.
Hemiparasites are green plants that tap into a neighboring plant’s water-filled xylem to acquire inorganic nutrients, which can lead to an accumulation of micronutrients in hemiparasite biomass. Hemiparasites include both short-lived annuals and perennials. Life history theory predicts annuals should expend their resources for reproduction during their sole reproductive effort, whereas longer-lived perennials should allocate resources to storage for future growth and reproduction. I predict that (a) excess nutrients will remain in leaf litter of annuals but will be translocated to roots for storage in perennials, (b) nutrient-processing bacteria will release nutrients from nutrient-rich litter of annuals, (c) other plants will grow better when located near annual hemiparasites. Because perennial hemiparasites require nutrients for future growth I predict they will release fewer nutrients through leaf litter.
During summer 2019, I sampled five hemiparasite populations at Nachusa Grasslands and Franklin Creek Nature Preserve: two annuals (Dasistoma macrophylla and Agalinis tenuifloia), and three perennials (Pedicularis canadensis, Castilleja sessiliflora, and Aureolaria grandiflora). I collected leaves at flowering stage and am collecting again at senescence to test prediction (a). I will sample soil nutrient levels later in the fall to test (b). Vegetation surveys were conducted for two species to test (c).
Poster Session Photos – Click to Enlarge