Research Under the City Lights

A Dinosaur from Jurassic World


A lot has happened already in the past few weeks. Though I go to school in Chicago, I am not really in the city and have gotten the chance to explore a bit more since the internship began. I’ve gotten to the point where I know the south loop area pretty well, and know where the good sandwich places are on the way to the Metra station. I also got to go to the Chicago History Museum, and the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, neither of which I had ever seen before and both of which were really fun. I also got to see the Jurassic World exhibit in the Field Museum which was pretty impressive. 

Research-wise we have been pretty busy as well. I got the chance to work with my mentor, Adrienne Ernst, on developing a project quite a while ago, so we already knew what we wanted to do. We are studying invasion in tallgrass prairies and what makes systems resistant to invasion. My particular sub-project is looking at propagule pressure (how many seeds of different kinds of species try to enter an area) and its effects on invasion success. 

Our Field Site


Two weeks ago we had our first harvest. Our study site has plots of plants with different levels of phylogenetic diversity (having either just close relatives or more of a spread of distantly related species) and different species combinations. There are both seed and plug plots: we either just put seeds in there (seed plots) or we actually planted mature plants in them (plug plots). We are focusing on the seed plots for our particular study. So we took transects (small sub-sections) of each of the seed plots and cut all the plants within that transect and collected them. This will give us a sense of what managed to invade in each of the different plots. This week, we began sorting through all of those bags trying to identify all the species we cut from the plots. We are mostly interested in what popped up that was not intentionally put there so we can compare rates of invasion across the different plots. There is still a lot left to do so we won’t have any sense of what’s happening for a while but I have gotten a lot better at identifying plant species after hours in the lab and a lot of patience on the part of my mentor. 

Our Lab Bench While Sorting


Overall it has been a fun few weeks! My mentor is great, the project is interesting, the city is exciting and the garden is gorgeous. I am excited for the rest of the summer!