I am a plant
ecologist. I am fascinated by the natural world, and interested in learning how
things work. Research in plant ecology allows me to follow these
interests, and to mentor students as they learn to be scientists. Most of my
current research is conducted in tallgrass prairies--either natural prairies or
prairie restorations constructed from former agricultural fields. Tallgrass
prairie historically was the most widespread natural ecosystem in Illinois, but
now less than 1% remains. To succeed in restoring tallgrass prairie to
Illinois, we need to understand how the prairie works as an ecosystem,
including how plant species interact with each other, how plant species
interact with insects and other animal species, and how soil microbiota
interact with species aboveground. My research addresses each of these areas.
In an effort to understand how plant species interact with each other, my
students and I are measuring functional traits of important tallgrass prairie
plant species, and using those functional traits to predict which plant species
should be abundant in prairie restorations of different ages. In research with
undergraduate and graduate students, we are exploring interactions between
prairie plant species and insect pollinators—a very important topic because
honeybees and other insect pollinators are currently declining in number. And a
third major research topic addresses how mycorrhizal fungi, an important soil
mutualism (fungi growing inside plant roots) influence plant growth and
I have a diverse educational and scholarship background, with a B.S. degree in Forestry and Wildlife, an M.S. degree in Wildlife Biology and a Ph.D. in Botany. My dissertation research was in fire ecology, to better understand how plant species in two rare, fire-maintained ecosystems (sand pine scrub in Florida and chaparral in California) respond to natural fires. After obtaining my Ph.D. I conducted postdoctoral research on using prescribed burning to promote flowering and fruiting of saw palmetto in Florida. Fruits of saw palmetto, a native shrubby palm species adapted to frequent fires, are wild-harvested for use in treating benign prostate hypertrophy in the United States and Europe.
A central theme in my work is understanding and promoting conservation of natural areas, including plant and animal species found in these areas. I extend this theme into community service, where I serve on the board of directors (and as former board chair) of the Land Conservancy of Will County. The mission of this not-for-profit organization is to preserve, protect and enhance natural, cultural, historical, agricultural and open space environments of Will County. We work closely with community leaders, private landowners and public agencies toward this goal through purchasing land, accepting donations of land and holding conservation easements on parcels of land.