Skip to main content

Possible MS Research Project

Students in the research thesis track Master’s program receive a strong foundation in plant ecology, evolution and conservation and conduct research in variety of areas. Students can develop their own projects or choose from already developed project ideas, such as the ones listed here. If any of these are of interest to you, we encourage you to contact the faculty member directly. If you would like to explore other ideas, contact faculty with research interests that interest you.

Projects with Dr. Jeremie Fant
POLLINATION: DOES IT MATTER WHERE YOUR POLLEN COMES FROM

Pollinators are the main agents for the dispersal of genetic material within and between populations for many species. Pollinators vary in foraging ranges, the number of flowers they visit in one feeding bout, and the distance they travel between bouts, all factors which will determine the number and diversity of pollen they carry, and therefore genetic material they distribute.  Clarkia breweri and Clarkia concinna are Californian endemic species that differ in major pollinators, providing an ideal opportunity to study pollinator effects on genetic diversity and inbreeding levels. A student will use paternity analysis to measure how pollinators impact the diversity of the offspring. This project has a molecular component but can be expanded to include fieldwork depending on student interest.  

ENDANGERED SPECIES IN BOTANIC GARDENS

Due to practical constraints, many botanic gardens curate only one or a few individuals of a species, which greatly limits the total diversity conserved. For species maintained at multiple botanic gardens, the total potential genetic diversity can be higher, but unfortunately, many collections are derived from the same source or are even clones of the same plants, so represent only a limited number of unique founders. With so few founders and limited collection sizes, the long-term viability of these collections is questionable. If the botanical community is to do a better job of maintaining the genetic diversity within our living collections for the long term, strategies are needed which can manage the risk of losses diversity and increased inbreeding. We are looking for student to work on multi-institutional project to track genetic diversity in six rare species currently held in collections. We are happy to work with students to identify species of interest to them. 

 

Projects with Dr. Amy Iler
CLIMATE CHANGE AND  SPECIES INVASION PROJECTS

Research in my lab asks questions about basic ecology in the context of environmental changes such as climate change and species invasions. Most of the work in my lab is field-based, and we use observational and experimental field studies, demographic modeling, and long-term datasets to answer our research questions. I am looking for a student interested in understanding the effects of invasive plants on native bees. Another focal area of research in my lab is understanding the consequences of shifted flowering times under climate change, and I am happy to brainstorm project ideas with interested students.

 

Projects with Dr. Andrea Kramer
RESEARCH TO INFORM PRIORITY LAND MANAGEMENT AND RESTORATION QUESTIONS IN THE CHICAGO REGION

Students working on this project will work with me, other Garden faculty and natural areas ecologists, and regional land managers to develop experiments aimed at answering priority research questions raised by land managers. This may include research to understand and address: 1) why specific species are declining across the region; 2) why specific species rarely establish and/or reproduce when included in restoration efforts; or to 3) assess and help establish best practices related to invasive species management and/or restoration approaches, particularly given legacy effects of invasive species and other types of disturbance common in an urban/suburban landscape; and 4) other topics that may come up over the course of conversations with land managers. A wide range of research approaches may be utilized for projects in this area, including seed ecology, molecular ecology, soil ecology, and community ecology. Students may conduct research in the field, lab, and/or greenhouses, or a combination of these areas, depending on research needs and goals of the student.

ASSESSING THE POTENTIAL FOR OUTBREEDING DEPRESSION WHEN SEEDS ARE MOVED BETWEEN ECOREGIONS FOR RESTORATION IN THE GREAT BASIN AND COLORADO PLATEAU

A student working on this project would work with me as well as collaborators with the Forest Service and Utah Division of Wildlife Resources to conduct controlled crosses within and between many populations of the perennial forb Penstemon pachyphyllus to identify crossing distances that result in reduced seed yield and lower offspring fitness. This species is targeted for increased restoration use in the region, and prior research has shown that seed set significantly declines when plants growing in the Great Basin ecoregion are crossed with those growing in the Colorado Plateau. This research is intended to directly inform the use of seeds being produced by federal and state agencies, as well as native seed growers, for large-scale use after wildfires throughout the region. It will involve travel to garden plots in the western United States to conduct crosses and collect seed resulting from crosses, as well as research in the laboratories at Chicago Botanic Garden.

 

Projects with Dr. Nyree Zerega
POLLINATION BIOLOGY; CONSERVATION, DIVERSITY, AND ORIGINS OF CROP SPECIES; PHYLOGENY, AND BIOGEOGRAPHY

Students in my lab conduct field and experimental studies and/or utilize genomic tools to understand evolutionary processes in plants. Research can take a basic and/or applied approach. Questions focus on the origins, diversity, and conservation of underutilized crops, ethnobotany, pollination biology, phylogeny, and biogeography. Contact me if you’re interested in further information: n-zerega@northwestern.edu

PERENNIAL CROPS AND ECOSYSTEM SERVICES

The majority of the world’s crops are annuals that require large inputs of agrochemicals and disruptive cultivation practices every year. In response, there is growing interest in perennial crops to improve agriculture sustainability. One such perennial crop is Kernza (Thinopyrum intermedium), a deep-rooted perennial wheatgrass cultivar developed by the Land Institute (Salina, Kansas). Although Kernza has potential to enhance ecosystem services, its effects relative to a range of other potential land uses are not fully understood. Students have the opportunity to develop research questions on this topic using existing experimental plots in the Chicago Region. Research on other perennial crops, such as the sunflower relative, Silphium integrifolium, may also be developed. Contact me if you’re interested in further information: n-zerega@northwestern.edu

Back to top