Hello! Here's an over-due update from the field:
My high school graduate interns, Alice Bieda and Marion Deal, and I have been busy out in Ware Field doing maintenance work on the experimental prairie project that Andrew Hipp, the Senior Scientist in the Herbarium, and others, have created. Most of our days are spent weeding the different kind of plots that compose the experiment, which include: monocultures (contain 60 planted plugs of a singular species), seed plots (contain 4 quadrants of 15 species that were planted by seed), and mixed plots (4 quadrants of 15 species (for a total of 60) planted by plugs).
The work we do is not particularly easy, however. There are 127 species in this prairie restoration experiment, and we're learning to identify all of them, plus some noxious weeds that we're removing from the site. The reason for this large number of prairie species, though, is in an attempt to mimic what a real prairie restoration might look like. The significance around this entire project is that tall grass prairies once dominated the North American landscape, but today, less than 1% of that original ecosystem exists. This project is aimed at testing whether phylogenetic diversity, which is the relatedness of species from the tree of life, has an effect on prairie restoration efforts. So, there are technically 4 levels of phylogenetic diversity (PD) being tested in the project. Monocultures, since they only have 1 species, would have 0 PD. Then in the mixed plots, there are 3 kinds of plots: low PD, medium PD, and high PD. Low PD plots would contain plants from the same or very closesly related families, but high PD plots would have species that are more distantly related. This perspective on PD has only been researched slightly in the past, so it's exciting to be apart of this unique experience!
In addition to overall maintanence of the project, my interns and I have began a project of our own... When collaborating ecologists from around the area conducted a survey of the site in May (and it was exciting because that way my first week on the job), we found that 11 species had been almost erradiacted from the project, most likely from voles (mice-like rodents) who are known to eat the modified roots of these targeted species. Once this puzzing discovery was made, I decided to jump at the opportunity and create my own research question: what is a vole's favorite food? ...Okay, not really that, but rather, are these species being targeted more in monocultures or mixed plots? Does the varying levels of phylogenetic diversity in plots affect the success of the plant? Are there any spatial patterns within the plots, or in the site as a whole, in relation to vole activity (like holes, trails, and mounding in plots) and herbivory?
We have collected all of our data and now are in the works of analyzing it and drawing conclusions.
I'm sorry for the lengthy introduction, but more (and shorter) news from the prairie will be coming soon!