Research update: Fall 2017

It’s been quite a while since I’ve last posted a research update, so I think it’s time!

 

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My experimental prairie is still going strong and looks lovely with its fall colors. 

 

In early summer, my university’s Northwestern Magazine published an article about some of the doctoral candidates that are doing all kinds of interesting research. I was happy to have been included as a part of this article. You can check out a digital version of the story here.

 

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My experimental green roof trays have the same species growing as last year, even with my total neglect this past summer. Looks like I’ve discovered some low-maintenance native species!

This past summer was the first one in eight years that I didn’t collect any new data. That was a strange feeling! I definitely had enough data to analyze, write about, and talk about so that’s what I did. I also took some time off to take care of a new little budding botanist in my life. Even in my absence, the prairie plants on the green roofs grew, flowered, made new seeds, and generally carried on just fine. After a few months, I was surprised to see that some of my experimental plots looked almost exactly like they did a year ago. This speaks to some of the low-maintenance requirements of both green roofs and native gardens. Although I wouldn’t recommend just planting things and walking away, it’s nice to think that some of my experiments might still be growing strong for years to come.

 

 

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These native grasses weren’t part of my experiment but are really cool to see. Planted on a green roof in 2009, the grasses are now taller than me! 

 

 

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I was happy to present my research in Seattle, WA.

Since starting work again this fall, I’ve given presentations about my research both locally and out of state. My first presentation was at the Green Roofs for Healthy Cities annual conference in Seattle. At this conference, I talked about my experiments measuring ecosystem services provided by green roofs. Ecosystem services are benefits that people get from the natural environment, like clean air and water. The research that I presented found that native plants on green roofs are very good at providing the ecosystem service of stormwater retention. Local grasses and wildflowers can absorb a lot of rainwater – more than some non-native succulent species – which helps keep storm systems in cities from getting overburdened and overflowing sewage (obviously a good thing!). On a different note, I also gave a presentation about the benefits of pollinators at the Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago. Even though Chicago is my hometown, it was my first time visiting this beautiful greenhouse. If you’re a local, you should definitely check it out!

 

 

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There is a green roof right by the Space Needle in Seattle (above and to the right of my head). 

Writing has been my main task these past few months. I’m excited that I finally got the proof for a manuscript that has been accepted for publication. This publication discusses some research I conducted in Germany back in 2013, which found that plant communities on green roofs don’t all follow the same pattern of succession. I submitted this manuscript back in the beginning of 2016 so it’s very nice to see it in the final stages of publication after 2 years. It’s still not officially out yet, but I think it’s getting close. At least, I really hope so! Aside from this publication, the majority of my writing was to complete the revisions on my dissertation. I’m very happy to say that the revisions are now all completed. The best part of completed revisions means that I got to submit my dissertation! Yes, it is officially done and I am just one final presentation away from finishing my PhD. After so many years, this is a strange and wonderful feeling. I’m hoping to write a special blog post in the future about my reflections on this time and some lessons learned so as to be helpful to future botanists who are traveling on a similar path.

 

 

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My future botanist and I celebrate the submission of my dissertation to Northwestern University! 

 

This coming winter will bring the end of my graduate studies and hopefully some exciting new professional opportunities to continue teaching and learning about botany in the Chicago region. As I take a pause from the fast-paced research of graduate school for a little bit, my research updates on this blog may be less frequent. But my botany in action isn’t over! I’m looking forward to finding new ways to share botany with you all!

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Research update: May 2017

May is over and summer is officially here! In the past, this has meant that it’s time for me to get up on the green roofs and start collecting data again. But not this year.

ksiazek mikenas penstemon hirsutus green roof summer blooming pollination diversity

Penstemon hirsutus or “hairy beardtongue,” is one of the species that I am studying for my dissertation. It started blooming on a green roof by the end of May. My research found that although the genetic diversity of this population is not very high, the flowers still get visited by a lot of pollinators. Pollinator visits can help keep genetic diversity from becoming too low – this is a good sign for the Penstemon.

This past May, my research schedule was a bit different because I have been busy trying to finish analyzing my data and writing up my results. I’m in the processes of finishing my Ph.D. and wanted to defend my dissertation by the end of the month. So instead of collecting new data, I looked at what I had already gathered and worked hard on uncovering the story that the data had to tell. I’m happy to say that by the end of the month I had written a story of how green roofs could be used for conservation of native plants. I then presented the nearly 200 pages of information to my defense committee in a 30-minute oral presentation and they asked me questions about my research for about 3 hours. All in all, it was a long process, but it was also very exciting to be able to look back at all the research that I’ve done over the past 6 years and finally be able to say that I have some conclusions and recommendations. The committee decided that I passed this test, which was excellent news! I still have some revisions that I need to incorporate into my overall dissertation and then I’ll continue working on getting my research published in peer-reviewed journals. This will take some time. But I’ll have all the revisions done so I get to be called “Dr.” this year, which was my goal.

Defense Cover ksiazek mikenas green roof habitat

The first slide of my dissertation defense. Can green roofs provide habitat for native plant species? In a word, YES! (But the other thousands of words in my dissertation also say that “It’s complicated” …)

As I transition from research for my dissertation to a new career path, there is no new research or data collection. In fact, I’ll be taking some time off this summer from both the research and the blog posts. I’m sure it will be strange not visiting some of the green roofs that I’ve been going to year after year. But I’m also sure that I’ll enjoy some of the cooler temperatures on the ground when the sun is really beating down on the hot, hot rooftops. After tending to some of my sites for 4 years now, it’s time to see what they do on their own.

Happy summer to all! Go visit a green roof this season. I’ll talk to you again in September!

green roof prairie summer ksiazek mikenas chicago botanic

My green roof plots at the Chicago Botanic Garden continue to grow and are looking good to start their fifth summer season. Without monitoring or data collection this year, it will be interesting to see how they do. Good luck my little plants!