Natural Vegetation Research
The Arboretum's research with naturally occurring vegetation focuses on two basic questions:
- How are plant species distributed across the Chicago region?
- How do plant species assemble into different plant communities that can be identified and maintained in their natural state?
Addressing these basic research questions is essential to conserving and managing the plant diversity of native plant communities. Arboretum research demonstrates how soils, landscape features, and pre-settlement landscape-scale fires created and patterned the plant communities we see today. Research also illuminates how these prairies, wetlands, woodlands, and forests have changed over time. Active research at the Arboretum today involves inferring historic vegetation patterns from literature sources, tree-ring analysis, and prior surveys, then making comparisons between current and historic vegetation based on modern-day vegetation surveys. Arboretum research also examines the effects of prescribed burning management on composition and structure of Chicago region plant communities.
Research in natural vegetation links to ongoing projects in plant systematics and rare plant conservation, which address the taxonomy and population dynamics of species that comprise the vegetation of the Chicago region. Together, these research programs apply the foundations of plant community ecology to the conservation and management of the Chicago region's diverse flora and vegetation.
Research is led by Marlin Bowles.