CONGRATULATIONS TO OUR 2016 IAEP Environmental Research Grant Award Winners:

1st Pl:  Jessa Finch, PhD candidate in Plant Biology and Conservation, a joint program of Northwestern University and the Chicago Botanic Garden.

2nd. Pl:   Erin Medvecz, Southern IL University

Jessa Finch

Jessa Finch is a PhD candidate in Plant Biology and Conservation, a joint program of Northwestern University and the Chicago Botanic Garden. Her work focuses on the impacts of climate change on early life stages of milkweed plants to inform monarch conservation efforts and improve species forecasting under rapid environmental change. Prior to beginning her graduate work, Jessa received a BA in Biological Sciences from Smith College (Northampton, MA), where her senior thesis on range dynamics in forest understory herbs received high honors. Jessa also serves as the Climate Scientist/Ecologist for Connect: Community + Climate + Action, an EPA funded project aimed at increasing climate literacy and fostering climate action through a community-asset based approach in the Midwest U.S.




Research Project Title:   Investigating Milkweed Germination Ecology for Restoration in the Midwest U.S.

Research Description:    Milkweeds (Asclepias L., Apocynaceae) are a group of highly restoration relevant perennial plants and the obligate host of the imperiled monarch butterfly.  Substantial declines in milkweed have been linked to the alarming drop in the monarch population in recent years, and demand for genetically appropriate milkweed for restoration has never been higher. Given the importance of germination and seedling establishment to restoration success, it is critical to understand germination tolerance ranges. Through a paired field and lab approach, I will investigate the germination responses of multiple populations of three priority milkweed taxa collected along a climatic gradient throughout the Midwest U.S. Understanding variation among populations, species, and along climatic gradients improves our ability to tailor propagation procedures, identify appropriate seed sources for restoration mixes, and forecast species response to climate change.

Erin Medvecz  

Erin Medvecz is a Masterís student in Plant Biology at Southern Illinois University (Carbondale, IL). She received the Masterís Fellowship award from the SIUC Graduate School for the first year of her program. Her thesis is exploring the responses of prairie plants to an invasive legume, Lespedeza cuneata. Before attending SIU, Erin graduated summa cum laude from the College of Saint Benedict (St. Joseph, MN) with her Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Studies. She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Delta Epsilon Sigma, Sigma Xi, and IAEP. She has spent three summers working for The Nature Conservancy conducting prairie restoration and monitoring, and she aspires to pursue a career within the organization upon completion of her Master's.

Research Project Title:    Resisting Invasion: Prairie Plant Responses to an Invasive Legume, Lespedeza cuneate

Research Description:    Invasive species hinder grassland restoration through their ability to alter the species composition of the ecosystems they invade. Sericea lespedeza (Lespedeza cuneata), a perennial legume native to Japan, is an aggressive invasive species in prairie restorations. After many unsuccessful attempts to eradicate this species, the complex interactions of L. cuneata with surrounding flora need further study to understand its full impact on prairie ecosystems. I am investigating the above- and belowground effects of sericea lespedeza on native grassland species from three different functional groups. Through a greenhouse experiment and field surveys in grasslands throughout southern Illinois, I am exploring responses of prairie plants to competition and plantsoil feedbacks with sericea. Understanding how this species alters its soil, in conjunction with its aboveground effects on native plants, is crucial to informing which plants may be more susceptible to the negative effects of this invasive and which species could be used to seed new restorations to create more resilient plant communities.