Numerous blisters, back/wrist injury, and one tick: behind the scenes of prairie restoration

Collecting hoses to water
Emily Grigg, high school intern, is setting up our watering system on site

The prairie restoration experiment ongoing at the Morton Arboretum is a lot more than just pretty flowers and phylogenetic diversity. In order to study this prairie, and get significant, controlled, results, there is a lot of maintenance work that goes into it.  I started at the Morton Arboretum on May 22nd, and every day, we were out in the field weeding. I have weeded before, so it seemed like an easy job to me. However, that was not the case. There are a total of 437 2x2 meter plots on site. This is a controlled experiment. Therefore, once we decided to weed the monocultures on site, they all needed to be done within a small amount of time. If we just weeded only half of the monocultures, we would see results where the ones that got weeded would be performing better than the rest. However, we want to see if the level of phylogenetic or functional trait diversity are affecting the restoration outcomes. Therefore, the amount of weeding could be a confounding variable, which we must control for. There are 254 monocultures. So, once we started to weed those, the rest needed to get done. As if that wasn’t enough pressure, imagine weeding a plot filled with weeds almost as tall as you, but the plant you want to keep is only a few inches off the ground. It is our job to make sure that all the plants we want, stay in the ground. It is not easy to replace them. Imagine working under the hot, bright sun, while still having to think about what you must take out and what must stay. Surprisingly, it took a lot of mental capability. Also, these weeds were not easy to take out. I ended days with numerous blisters, and the horrible thought that I have a bunch of ticks on me. Overall, prairie restoration is not easy, and doing it for an experiment, is only a lot harder. The things that I have learned through the whole restoration process will stay with me forever and hopefully help me to reach my goals of keeping this environment sustainable.