Boots On The Ground Conservation


  • Native versus Exotic Phragmites Subspecies


    Originally from Eurasia, exotic Phragmites australis ssp. australis (Figure 1) invades high quality and disturbed wetlands alike, reducing biodiversity by excluding other plant life and disrupting ecological function. It’s spread has been rapid, and land managers are hard-pressed to keep up.


    Figure 1. Phragmites australis ssp. australis

    Native Phragmites australis ssp. americanus has co-evolved with other native flora and fauna, has existed in Illinois for thousands of years, and does not typically reduce biodiversity or cause ecological disruption where it occurs. It most often forms either loose or localized colonies, which allow for the co-occurrence of other species. The growth form of native Phragmites lends a unique element of physical structure to wetlands and the tissues of the plant support a number of insect species.

    For these reasons, resources need to be directed towards the eradication of the exotic subspecies and not wasted eradicating stands of the native subspecies. The eradication of native Phragmites may simplify wetland food webs and the associated disturbance may create opportunities for truly harmful invaders.

    Identification of native and exotic subspecies isn’t especially difficult, if you know what to look for. Here I focus on characteristics most easily observed during the fall and winter. Fall and winter are arguably the best time to identify the native and exotic subspecies, because some of the most reliable characteristics for identification are most clearly observed on dormant plants.

    Investigation of several characteristics is strongly advised, because interpretations of certain more qualitative characteristics can vary from person to person, and some plants may be ambiguous or atypical with respect to any single characteristic. Hybrids between native and exotic subspecies would be problematic for identification, but hybrids are exceedingly rare.

    Read more for a precise comparison of the two subspecies.

  • National Conservation Easement Database

    Jo Daviess County, Illinois, Conservation Easements

    The National Conservation Easement Database (NCED) is the first national database of conservation easement information, compiling records from land trusts and public agencies throughout the United States. Voluntary and secure, the NCED respects landowner privacy and will not collect landowner names or sensitive information. This public-private partnership brings together national conservation groups, local and regional land trusts, and state and federal agencies around a common objective. The NCED provides a comprehensive picture of the estimated 40 million acres of conservation easement lands, recognizing their contribution to America’s natural heritage, a vibrant economy, and healthy communities.


  • Habitat Heterogeneity

    The phrase Habitat Heterogeneity happens to be one of the most important phrases in prairie ecology.  In fact, I would argue that the foremost objective of any prairie manager should be to create habitat heterogeneity within the prairie(s) they manage. Habitat heterogeneity simply means diversity or variety in habitat types.  Habitat homogeneity is the opposite – a lot of habitat that is all the same.

    Every organism in a prairie has its own unique habitat requirements, so the number of different habitat types in a particular prairie is correlated with number of species that can live there. Let’s use prairie birds as an example. Birds such as upland sandpipers like to nest in large patches of relatively short-stature grassland. On the other hand, Henslow’s sparrows want to nest in prairie habitats with relatively tall and dense vegetation. It would be highly unusual to find Henslow’s sparrows and upland sandpipers nesting in the same patch of prairie because their habitat preferences are very different.

    So, if you want both species in your prairie, you have to provide both short and tall/dense habitat. Other birds have their own unique habitat requirements, including nearly bare ground (e.g., horned lark), relatively short, but with abundant thatch (grasshopper sparrow), tall with lots of tall/weedy wildflowers (dickcissels), tall and nearly impenetrably dense vegetation (sedge wrens), and many others. Only if your prairie provides all those different habitat conditions will you attract all those different bird species.

    Dickcissels prefer
  • 24th North American Prairie Conference


    "From Cemetery Prairies to National Tallgrass Prairies"

    July 17-20, 2016. Illinois State University, Normal, Illinois

    Featured speakers include Michael Jeffords, Jeff Walk, Chris Helzer, Rich Henderson, and Sara Baey. Pete Schram, who organized the first Prairie Conference back in 1968, will be honored.

    Registration will be available February first. Field trips are planned to large scale high diversity restorations at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, Nachusa Grassland and Efroymson Restoration at Kankakee Sands as well as a diversity of other locations throughout the region.


  • First Plants Flower in Space

    For the first time ever, a flower has bloomed in space, aboard the International Space Station. This brings cosmic explorers one step closer to growing other flowering plants in space, like tomatoes, which NASA says it hopes to do in 2018. Read more...

  • Morton Grove Prairie

  • Otter Hole

    Ice hole where an otter was a few seconds earlier...

  • WIld Bees in Decline

    A new study of wild bees identifies 139 counties that have the most worrisome mismatch between falling wild bee supply and rising crop pollination demand. Until this study, we didn't have a national mapped picture about the status of wild bees and their impacts on pollination.


  • Prairie Word of the Day – Disturbance

    If you are interested in prairie ecology or management, you’re likely to have seen the term “disturbance” used in some context (e.g., “ecological disturbance,” “disturbance regime,” “disturbance in the force”).  Ok, that last one is from a different context, but nevertheless.

    Outside of prairie ecology or other ecological conversations, a disturbance is often something that requires contacting the police.  However, in almost every case, prairie managers would appreciate you not calling the police in response to disturbances in a prairie.  So what does the word “disturbance” mean in an ecological context?

    Fire is one of the big three historical disturbances to which prairies are adapted to and rely on.


  • Photo of the Week – December 10, 2015

    Tree skeletons in post sunset glow in the 2012 wildfire area at TNC's Niobrara Valley Preserve, Nebraska.

    This tree supported a fallen tree for quite a few years – long enough to mold itself around it.