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To the Prairie... and Beyond!

Tuesday, July 16, 2019
To the Prairie... and Beyond!
As I walk out of the Field Museum, I have many sights to enjoy, including some of the plants I am sequencing and a dinosaur statue off to the left.

Greetings! My name is Alice Bieda, and I am a rising sophomore at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. This summer, I am working on making a phylogeny for all of the plants (and some of the weeds) from the long-term prairie restoration experiment that is happening on Arboretum grounds. I spent last summer maintaining the prairie and studying the effects that voles were having on certain species, and I am happy to be back for another summer to continue working with the prairie species.


A phylogeny is like a family tree for plants. It helps us to see how similar (or different) the species in our experiment are. This, along with the data from the experiment, allows us to examine the effect that genetic diversity has on the success of prairie restorations. This is an important concept to explore as prairies are a very endangered ecosystem. Less than one tenth of one percent of original Illinois prairie remains today. A paper done in collaboration with some Arboretum scientists found that, across the board, restored prairies are less diverse than remnant prairies, which are part of the one tenth of one percent that remains in Illinois. This means that it is necessary for more research to be done on what it takes to create successful, diverse restorations, which is what this project is aiming to do.


I do most of my work at the Arboretum, but I have to run my final products through a machine at the Field Museum to get the data I need to make the phylogeny. It’s been fun to make periodic field trips to Chicago to do this, and I have been pleasantly surprised to see many native Illinois prairie plants on my walk to the museum.

Illinois prairie plants on the left side of a street. Tall Chicago buildings on the right.
My walk to the Field Museum is anything but boring!

I’ve passed the halfway mark of my internship, which is crazy to think about. I’m moving quickly through my samples, and it is exciting to see the phylogeny starting to come together. I can’t wait to see where the rest of my internship takes me!