Research update: March/April 2017

ksiazek mikenas green roof prairie smoke Chicago

Prairie smoke (Geum triflorum) is one of the first plants that blooms in the spring. It was flowering on this green roof in Chicago among the short leaves of other native plants. This rooftop will look like a fully-functioning prairie in a couple months!

Welcome spring! It’s time for the plants on the green roof to wake up from their dormancy and start growing once again. It’s wonderful to see that some of the native prairie species that I planted back in 2012-2014 are still alive and doing well on the green roofs around Chicago. Though most of them are still tiny, I think they’ve been enjoying the milder temperatures and lots of rain. By mid-summer, things will look quite different!

ksiazek mikenas green roof prairie plants spring

Even though I’m not collecting data this year, my experimental prairies are still going strong on the green roofs. You can see the plants starting to emerge in the strip along the lower right corner of the photo.

allium cernuum green roof experiment mikenas ksiazek cactus

The native nodding onions (Allium cernuum) have survived another winter and are emerging in the green roof trays, along with some prickly pear cactus (Opuntia humifusa)

I’m finished collecting data on the green roofs for now and these past months I’ve mostly been analyzing my data to see what patterns emerge and writing about my results. I’ll be finishing my graduate program this year and I’ve got enough data to write about for my dissertation. It already feels a bit strange not to go back to some of the same green roof sites that I’ve been visiting year after year, but I’m sure that my post-graduation plans will involve green roofs in some way so I know I won’t be away for too long. It’s also kind of nice to just go to the green roofs and appreciate their beauty without all the strenuous data collection!

ksiazek mikenas growing up in the city book children

For part of a virtual conference, I filmed myself talking about my children’s activity book “Growing UP in the City: A Book About Green Roofs.” The video was featured during the month of April.

Other than data analysis and writing, I was also involved in a conference this spring. Not a typical conference this time, but a “virtual summit” which is a type of conference that is 100% online. It’s the first time I’ve ever been a presenter at a virtual conference and it was quite a different experience. I was invited by greenroofs.com to speak about the children’s activity book I wrote for their 2017 Green Roofs and Wall of the World 2017 Virtual Summit. Being a speaker involved writing a script, videotaping myself, and collecting video clips and photos of people using the book. Thankfully, the organizers of the conference helped produce a nice video. Now people who are registered for the summit can watch it online to learn all about how and why my coauthor and I designed this fun book. There was also a live question and answer session about the book, which is similar to the Q&A sessions at the end of regular presentations in live conferences. All in all, this virtual presentation was a neat way to talk about some of my work with people from around the world. And I didn’t even have to leave my house!

ksiazek mikenas film WTTW green roof Notebaert urban nature

Back in August, I was filmed for the video series, Urban Nature. In March 2017, the video was released. Check it out!

Speaking of videos, in March WTTW Chicago put out the video series for which I was filmed back in August. The series of videos are all about urban nature and they include a lot of really interesting stories! The one I’m in is called Rooftop Refuges and you can watch it by clicking here. It starts off in New York where researchers are looking at how birds use green roofs. My part about native plants ended up being pretty short, considering the hours of filming (and extreme sweating in over 100 degrees F heat), but I think it came out very well. Be sure to take a look – I’m sure you’ll learn something new! There is also a short article about the video series that you can read by clicking here. Enjoy!

Research update: September/October 2016

The prairie grasses are in flower on the green roofs - it must be fall!

The prairie grasses are in flower on the green roofs – it must be fall!

Fall is here once again and the plants on the green roofs are getting ready to face another tough winter. I, on the other hand, am getting ready to face a winter of lab work, data analysis, and writing. I’m happy to say that over the past couple months I’ve finished collecting all my data from my outdoor green roof experiments. After carrying out some experiments for 4 years, it was kind of bitter-sweet to see this step come to an end.

The nodding onion plants that had pollinators on them last month are now bursting with seeds. I can't wait to see if there are lots of new seedlings next year!

The nodding onion plants that had pollinators on them last month are now bursting with seeds. I can’t wait to see if there are lots of new seedlings next year!

I finished collecting all of my temperature probes in September.

I finished collecting all of my temperature probes in September.

I've collected a lot of temperature data from the green roofs over the past 2 years. Now I'm trying to make sense of the trends that I've found.

I’ve collected a lot of temperature data from the green roofs over the past 2 years. Now I’m trying to make sense of the trends that I’ve found.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In September, I collected all of the remaining temperature probes from my plots. This was a little tricky in some plots where the vegetation is now almost 5 feet tall! I compiled all the data, which was actually a big task – I’ve been recording temperature every 3 hours for over 2 years on over 60 probes.I’ve started to look at trends in these data and so far it looks like there is little difference between my different treatments in the winter but larger differences between the native prairie plants and the non-native succulent sedum plants during the summer. As you might expect, the succulent plants provide more cover and shade, so they tend to keep the soil cooler than the soil that’s exposed to the full-sun conditions. I’ll spend more time analyzing these data over the winter and will be writing my conclusions in my dissertation this spring.

Finding the temperature probes - only about the size of a dime - was a little tough in some of my plots where the vegetation was so tall. Eventually, I found them all!

Finding the temperature probes – only about the size of a dime – was a little tough in some of my plots where the vegetation was so tall. Eventually, I found them all!

I'm growing quite a collection of name tags from guest lectures and speaker events. It's always fun to talk to people about my research.

I’m growing quite a collection of name tags from guest lectures and speaker events. It’s always fun to talk to people about my research.

I was also invited to give a couple guest-lectures in October, including at an Economic Botany class at the Morton Arboretum and during a tour of the Chicago Botanic Garden by the Northwestern University Women’s Board. It’s always fun to teach people about green roofs, urban ecology, and the unique opportunities I have as a graduate researcher in a joint program between two remarkable institutions.

The prickly pear cactus is one of the only native species that survived two harsh years in the green roof trays.

The prickly pear cactus is one of the only native species that survived two harsh years in the green roof trays.

Fall has arrived on the green roofs! I'm happy that my research plots are really starting to look like prairies.

Fall has arrived on the green roofs! I’m happy that my research plots are really starting to look like prairies.

Other than finishing field work and guest lectures, I’ve mostly been organizing and analyzing data, mentoring students in an online program called Planting Science, preparing job applications, and getting lab work done (when all the equipment has been working… which seems to be a rare event). I finished extracting the DNA from all of my samples and have very slowly been making progress with my paternity study. I’m hoping that next month will be a big one for lab work success. I’ve got my fingers crossed!

 

The green roof trays are ready for another winter as the colors of fall creep in.

The green roof trays are ready for another winter as the colors of fall creep in.

Big bluestem is flowering in my green roof plots. See you next spring, prairie plants!

Big bluestem grass is flowering in my green roof plots. See you next spring, prairie plants!

Finally, I’ve been working on writing a short article about a unique plant that found its way to a green roof in London. The story should be published next month – stay tuned!

 

Research update: August 2016

August is over and the summer field work is slowly coming to an end. Back-to-school for teachers and students means back-to-lab-and-writing for me.

Some of the plants in my green roof experiments are providing nectar and pollen for local bees. The bumble bees are especially loving the Allium cernuum (nodding onion).

Some of the plants in my green roof experiments are providing nectar and pollen for local bees. The bumble bees are especially loving the Allium cernuum (nodding onion).

I spent a lot of time this past month at my computer, looking at data I collected back in 2013 and writing about my results. I’ve been working on a written report or “manuscript” for a scientific journal. I finally improved things to the point where I felt pretty good about the way that everything looked and sounded so I submitted the manuscript to an urban ecology journal. Next, other scientists who have similar research interests will carefully review my work and let me know if they think I’ve missed something or performed any analyses incorrectly. When I receive their comments in about a month, I hope I will be able to make all the necessary changes and then re-submit my manuscript to be published. As soon as I submitted this first manuscript for review, I immediately started working on another manuscript looking at a different part of the data (the first manuscript is about how plant and insect diversity change on green roofs over time and the second manuscript is about how certain types of plants are better at surviving on green roofs than others). After I’ve spent more time on this second manuscript, I will submit it to a different journal and the whole review and re-writing process will be repeated. If you’re a scientist, there’s always more writing to be done.

As far as the outdoor work, I’ve finally finished the water-holding and evaporation experiment that I was running with my experimental green roof trays. I say “finally” because I had to add an extra trial due to some July rains and because this experiment is not one of my favorites to perform. It involves weighing the trays when they’re filled with soil, plants, and water, which can add up to about 40 pounds per tray. And there are 40 trays that each get measured 6 times in a 24-hour period. If you’re doing the math, that’s lifting trays 240 times. So yes, that experiment is FINALLY over and I’m pretty happy about it (so is my sore back). The next step will be to analyze the data and see what all those measurements mean. I’m excited to be able to use the results of that experiment to tell a story about which types of plants can absorb rainwater on green roofs.

It was strange to be fake-running my experiments on the green roofs as a film crew captured every move.

It was strange to be fake-running my experiments on the green roofs as a film crew captured every move.

One day this past month, I even got to “fake-run” this water-holding experiment as I was followed by a film crew. A local TV station is putting together a series on urban wildlife and asked me to participate by talking about biodiversity on green roofs and demonstrating some of my experimental techniques. It was fun to be hooked up to a microphone and followed around by a camera crew but they picked a VERY hot day for filming and it ended up being over 100 degrees (F) on the roofs! I think I’m going to look very sweaty in my first TV appearance but at least they captured the real-life work conditions that are present on green roofs. The episode will be in production for a while and I hope to put a link to the show on my blog this spring when it airs.

Every move was caught on camera as the film crew followed me on the green roofs. This is one of the few pictures where I'm not wiping away sweat in the 100+ degree heat.

Every move was caught on camera as the film crew followed me on the green roofs. This is one of the few pictures where I’m not wiping away sweat in the 100+ degree heat.

I think that really hot day with the TV crew will be the last one for a while. As the fall begins, I’ll get back to lab work, finish gathering the temperature data from all my research sites, start analyzing the data that I finished collecting this summer, and start writing more manuscripts for my dissertation. I’ll also be mentoring high school students through the PlantingScience program I participated in this summer and will begin the all-important search for a job. It should be an exciting time!

This fall, I'll be mentoring high school students through an online program. I got to learn all about the experiments they'll be doing at a hands-on summer workshop this past June.

This fall, I’ll be mentoring high school students through an online program. I got to learn all about the experiments they’ll be doing at a hands-on summer workshop this past June.

In the meantime, check out this article about how green roofs can help prevent urban flooding. Click here. Toward the end, there are even a few quotes from a familiar green roof ecologist! 😉 It’s fun to be able to be an expert on green roofs and biodiversity!