Reproductive Biology Mentor Projects

Does diversity of its floral neighborhood affect pollination of a model prairie plant? (2018)

Tallgrass prairie has been reduced to just a fragment of its original size. Does an Echinacea plant produce more seeds if it’s in a highly diverse remnant compared to a less diverse remnant of the same size?

In west central Minnesota, the model prairie perennial, Echinacea angustifolia (purple coneflower), grows in a variety of remnant habitats. We know the nearness of

Bees on roadsides: does habitat quality impact diversity? (2018)
Less than 1% of the tallgrass prairie remains, making questions regarding its conservation critically important. Much of the tallgrass prairie exists in small remnant patches along roadsides and surrounded by agricultural fields. Roadsides provide bees with floral resources and may provide nesting habitat, but may negatively impact bee health. We plan to assess the diversity and abundance of

Can plants have sex with themselves? Investigating self-fertilization in California annuals (2018)

In Southern California, diverse annual plant communities germinate in the winter and bloom in early spring. With so many different species of flowers open simultaneously, competition for pollination may be fierce. But, some species may be able to self-fertilize, reducing their reliance on pollinators for reproduction. However, scientists don’t know which species are capable of self-

CBG Summer Intern (2018)

There are a wide number of potential projects for a student to work under at the Chicago Botanic Garden. We try our best to give them a broad experience of the Science and the Scientific process while they are at the Gardens.

Does hand pollination select for different features than natural pollination in the Organ Mountain Evening Primrose? (2018)

Oenothera organensis is a rare evening primrose, found only in the Organ Mountains of New Mexico. The Chicago Botanic Garden obtained plants from a greenhouse collection at Indiana University of Oe. organensis descended from individuals collected in the wild in 1938, as well as plants collected last year from the wild. Oe. organensis is self-incompatible, and

Paintbrushes and Pollinators: Investigating species relationships and possible pollinator shifts in Castilleja (2018)

The wide diversity in the traits and forms of flowers found in flowering plants has long fascinated biologists, and understanding how and why flowers evolve remains important for understanding biodiversity and evolution. In animal-pollinated plants, closely related species are often distinguished based on differences in floral traits, especially if such differences may reflect shifts in major

Potential Invaders: Do sterile cultivars of Spiraea japonica exist? (2018)

The Chicago Botanic Garden holds the Plant Collections Network, Nationally Accredited collection of Spiraea. Spiraea japonica is a widely used landscape shrub that has recently been showing up on invasive plant watch lists around the country. Our collection of Spiraea japonica contains over 60 cultivars. Fecundity is the ability of an organism to produce offspring. By

Reintroduction of Midwestern Terrestrial Orchids (2018)

North America is home to over 200 species of native orchids.  Nearly half of these species are under severe threat due to habitat destruction and many species are likely to become extinct unless action is taken to conserve them and their fungal partners. Since 2012, a coalition of partners has focused on native orchid conservation by developing a large-scale, collaborative project addressing

Floral traits at the intersection of herbivory and pollination in evening primroses (2017)

The Dimensions of Biodiversity: Landscapes of Linalool grant broadly examines the role of floral scent in mediating pollinator and herbivore interactions and in driving the diversification of evening primroses at multiple evolutionary timescales. Due to their opposing effects on plant fitness, herbivores and pollinators have the potential to influence the evolution of floral phenotypes across

Inbreeding and decline in plant fitness (2017)

There are several factor that may lead to a population’s extinction, one of these is inbreeding depression. Inbreeding depression is the reduction in fitness within a population as a result of inbreeding. This is a major issue in conservation because the negative effects of inbreeding depression affect all aspects of reproduction.

This project focuses on identifying life-history traits

Local adaptation of flowering phenology in common milkweed (2017)

Local adaptation is a well-documented phenomenon in plants, whereby populations evolve specialization to local environmental conditions, such as climate. The timing of life cycle events such as flowering and fruit set, also known as phenology, often displays local adaptation. As many flowering plants are pollinated by animals, aligning flowering time with pollinator emergence and activity is

Predictive provenancing: can southern-sourced seeds be used in Midwest restoration efforts? (2017)

Rapid anthropogenic climate change is currently causing range shifts and changes in phenology for many species. Many plant populations have been shown to be adapted to local environmental conditions. Restoration managers have hence primarily sourced their seed from local areas relative to the restoration site. However, the genotypes present in these populations used as seed sources may be ill-

Sex in an evening primrose: can hand pollination select for traits that make plants less attractive to hawkmoths? (2017)

Oenothera organensis is a rare evening primrose, found only in the Organ Mountains of New Mexico. The Chicago Botanic Garden obtained plants from a greenhouse collection at Indiana University of Oe. organensis descended from individuals collected in the wild in 1938, as well as plants collected last year from the wild. Oe. organensis is self-incompatible, and

Staying connected: How floral variation and local pollinators shape gene flow in downy Indian paintbrush (2017)

Different floral traits-- the color, shape, and scent of flowers-- can attract different groups of pollinators to flowers of a particular species. For many flowering plants, pollinators are primarily responsible for moving the genes of plants (via pollen) between different individuals, and among populations. In population genetics, the movement of gene is termed gene flow, which affects many

Defining germination tolerance ranges for three milkweeds (Asclepias spp.) (2016)

Early life stages (dormancy break, germination, and seedling establishment) are predicted to be more sensitive to climate than adult stages, potentially serving as a large bottleneck to recruitment under climate change. We predict that sensitivity to climate will also be influenced by species traits known to be associated with gene flow, such as type of breeding system and pollination syndrome

Dry communities of the Midwest - Plant traits that make you successful in a xeric and fragmented habitat (2016)

The gravel hills support a unique plant community more similar to short grass prairies of the West rather than mesic prairies of the surrounding areas. These habitats are often small and isolated habitats which have been naturally fragmented for many years. We are interested in what are the traits that have allowed these species to colonize these areas and persist in these areas. As these

Floral trait variation in evening primroses (Onagraceae) (2016)

The evening primrose family, Onagraceae, shows spectacular inter- and intra-specific variation in floral morphology, floral scent and mating systems. As part of a large NSF-funded Dimensions of Biodiversity project, we have documented both inter- and intra-specific variation in floral traits in 14 species of Onagraceae and have found striking intraspecific polymorphisms in many taxa. In these

From small town seeds to big city weeds: Variation in Asclepias spp. along climatic gradients and across life stages (2016)

Intern will assist in several ongoing projects investigating three milkweed species (Ascelpias spp.) across life stages and along climatic gradients. Early life stages will be examined through laboratory germination trials at Chicago Botanic Garden (CBG) and a field germination experiment at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. A second year of monitoring data will be collected from a

Growing apart?: Documenting range-wide floral variation to investigate a possible pollinator shift in Castilleja sessiliflora (2016)

The adaptation of plants to different kinds of pollinators is considered a driving force of the floral diversity seen among angiosperms. Shifts between pollinators that are accompanied by changes in floral traits provide a key opportunity to investigate the role of pollinators in driving floral trait evolution. Many studies of pollinator shifts, however, fail to address changes in pollinators

How bad can inbreeding be? Mating system variation and inbreeding in Oenothera primiveris. (2016)

Mating system is directly related to inbreeding and in some cases will lead to a loss of fitness known as inbreeding depression. The relation between mating system and ID has been study in different organisms, and there is a strong relationship but variation is inevitable. In self-incompatible populations (can't self), they will express greater inbreeding depression than self-compatible, due

Smoke and Parasites... and other triggers to break seed dormancy (2016)

Dormancy allows seeds to wait out bad times and predict when conditions are most suitable for seedling establishment. Hence the triggers of seed germination will vary with ecosystem and life-history of a species. However, for many species these triggers are largely unknown. For example, for parasitic species like Comandra umbellata (an important native species in Midwestern prairie

Assessment of Arthropod Communities of Rare and Declining Plant Taxa (2015)

Insect communities are an important part of ecological interactions, especially involving relationships with plants. Because of this importance, there are especially interesting interactions when species are rare or in decline. To get at some of these interactions, this project examines pollination biology of a threatened plant and the arthropod community of a common, but declining tree. The

Demographic consequences of seed germination patterns in Lespedeza leptostachya (2015)

Temperature and precipitation patterns are predicted to affect the early growth rates of temperate grassland species such as Prairie Bush Clover, particularly germination responses that are critical to maintaining viable populations. Preliminary population projection models of PBC suggest that both of these factors have strong effects on the population growth rate of this species. The student

Developing genetically appropriate seed mixes of vulnerable plant species for restoration (2015)

Vulnerable plant species, which are often classified as rare or endangered in certain parts of their ranges, are unique in that they are neither common, nor highly threatened with extinction. However, local populations are often small and fragmented, which makes them ideal candidates for restoration. Threatened by climate change, habitat destruction, limited gene flow between fragmented

Inheritance of Scent (2015)

Our studies of Oenothera harringtonii (Arkansas Valley Evening Primrose) have revealed geographic variation of floral scent compounds despite evidence of high gene flow. Scent variation in O. harringtonii is mainly associated with a single compound, linalool; which is sometimes found in large quantities. We observe geographic variation in floral scent and have identified two primary chemotypes

Monarch utilization of milkweed populations along an urbanization gradient (2015)

This research project examines monarch utilization of common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) populations along an urbanization gradient in and around Chicago, IL. In response to recent dramatic declines in the monarch butterfly population, a large milkweed planting initiative is underway across the nation. Milkweeds (Asclepias spp.are the obligate host plant of the

Pollinator limitation and population genetics of a federally threatened orchid (2015)

Habitat fragmentation of Midwestern prairies has lead to many consequences for plant species, including disruption of plant pollinator interactions. Pollinator limitation in fragmented habitats can lead to reduced seed set, subsequent reduction of population size, and higher likelihood of inbreeding.  Additionally, orchids are of special conservation concern because they can act as bio-

Pollinator traits & characteristics of flowers in the evening primrose family (2015)

Angiosperms, or flowering plants, appeal to various pollinators by exhibiting floral characteristics such as color, scent, and the times of the day their petals open based on the pollinators they wish to attract (Dodd et al 1999) These evolutionary adaptations increase the chances that pollination by a particular pollinator will occur and, thus, increase the likelihood that a seed will be

Scent variation: its role in attracting both pollinators and herbivores in Evening Primroses (2015)

The plant tribe Onagreae (Onagraceae; the evening primrose family) and its associated insects pollinators (Sphingidae hawkmoth) and herbivores (Mompha microlepidoptera and Hawkmoth larvae) is a model systems for studying the role of floral scent in shaping the evolution of plants and their associated organisms across western North America. Floral scent is known to be an important trait in

The invasive potential of Echinacea pallida in western Minnesota (2015)

In Minnesota, tallgrass prairie has been reduced to less than 1 percent of its original extent. Although prairie restorations have been planted to increase the extent of prairie habitat, these restorations sometimes use non-native species. For example, a prairie restoration in our study area in western Minnesota was planted with the non-native Echinacea pallida. We don't know whether

Green Roof Ecology (2014)

Green roofs have the potential to provide habitat and other resources for native plant and animal species in urban environments. Previous research has found that a variety of such species do use green roofs but further investigation is needed to determine how these habitats can be designed to make greater contributions to urban biodiversity conservation. This project will focus on evaluating

Impacts of Climate Change on Germination of Native Species. (2014)

Investigating Plant Regeneration Responses along an Environmental Gradient: This project aims to examine variation in tolerance range for dormancy break, germination of seeds, and establishment of seedlings, in order to compare contemporary and future regeneration within the context of climate change. Currently, very little is known about how altered environmental cues will impact plant

Interactions between a Suite of Biocontrol Weevils and the Ecosystem of Cirsium pitcheri (2014)

This project focuses on interactions between a suite of biocontrol weevils and the threatened plant, Cirsium pitcheri, and carries implications for management and biocontrol usage in the United States. Work will be split between a lab at the Chicago Botanic Garden and field sites in Door County, Wisconsin. The weevils have been used to control Cirsium, Carduus, and Centaurea species in North

Plant-herbivore interactions with hybrid Echinacea plants in native prairie (2014)

In western Minnesota, prairie restorations with the non-native Echinacea pallida have been planted near prairie remnants with the native Echinacea angustifolia. These two species are able to hybridize. Hybrid plants could threaten the native Echinacea by genetic swamping and they may not support as diverse an assemblage of insect herbivores. For instance, the native plant hosts a specialist

Scent variation: its role in attracting both pollinators and herbivores in Evening Primroses (2014)

The plant tribe Onagreae (Onagraceae; the evening primrose family) and its associated insects pollinators (Sphingidae hawkmoth) and herbivores (Mompha microlepidoptera and Hawkmoth larvae) is a model systems for studying the role of floral scent in shaping the evolution of plants and their associated organisms across western North America. Floral scent is known to be an important trait in

Invasion by hybridization between native and non-native purple coneflowers (2013)

In western Minnesota prairie restorations have been planted near native prairie remnants. Two non-native Echinacea species (E. pallida and E. purpurea) have been planted in restorations. We want to know the extent to which the non-natives affect reproduction in the native species. Non-native pollen is hypothesized to interfere with pollination in the native and hybridization between the

Nutrient assimilation and management practice in communities of Cypripedium candidum in the Chicago Region (2013)

Orchids belong to one of the most abundant families on earth and tend to be very specific in their habitats. Many exotic species are commercially grown in greenhouses, but our local terrestrial species are not so easily domesticated. As a result, their preservation is challenging, and conventional reintroduction and restoration techniques are intractable for many species. We do know that

Plant-insect interactions in Echinacea angustifolia (2013)

Reproduction in the purple coneflower, Echinacea angustifolia, occurs each July in western Minnesota. Peak flowering varies from year to year by several weeks. In a large experimental planting of Echinacea in a prairie restoration, we have observed that seed set starts high and declines during the flowering season. We want to know why. Do different bees species visit early and late in the

Seeding Restorations: Evaluating seed viability to improve restoration outcomes (2013)

Most large-scale restoration projects are conducted using seed mixes. Knowledge of seed viability (ability of seeds to germinate) is important both in calculating seed required and evaluating establishment success of individual species or genotypes in a restored community. Methods of assessing seed viability differ some methods destroy the seeds, but are cheap, fast and easy, while others

Characterization of Floral diversity and host preferences of Parastic Plant; Castilleja coccinea in the Chicago Region (2012)

Castilleja coccinea is a semi-parasitic plant that produces flowers subtended by brightly colored bracts. In most cases the bracts of this species are red (coccinea= Latin word meaning "deep red") however many populations in the Chicago Region have yellowish bracts. We hope to map the variation of floral shape, color and major pollination throughout the region.As flower color is closely