How does your prairie grow?
Prairie Quadrat program attendees identify prairie plants on June 30.
Summer is show time for Fermilab flora: out of the grassy green prairie pop the bright yellow blooms of compass plants, the tiny white buds of wild quinine and the pale purple blooms of coneflowers. From a single square meter of earth, plants of 10 or more species might spring up in brilliant color.
You can glimpse the display from your office or car window, but you can also get shoulder-deep in the plant life as a participant in the Fermilab Prairie Quadrat Program. Attendees will have the chance to do useful science while admiring the native art.
Throughout July and August, Fermilab employees and members of the public will have four opportunities to participate in morning-long surveys of the Fermilab plant population. In small groups, volunteers will focus on a square meter of vegetation, called a quadrat. With help from docents and field guides, they will identify each plant in their quadrat and record their findings on a paper grid. After about two hours in the field, the team will head back to the Lederman Science Center to enter the data in an online archive.
"The Prairie Quadrat Program gives the public a chance to see what it's like to be a field scientist," explained Sue Sheehan, an education program leader at the Science Center. During its 17-year history, the program has hosted hundreds of volunteers, ranging from elementary students to Ph.D. physicists.
The program has also given experts a valuable look into the health of Fermilab's natural areas. Quadrat studies have helped document the restoration of farmland to a diverse prairie ecosystem.
"It comes back to saving a habitat," Sheehan said. "Saving a prairie is just as important as saving a rainforest. We're trying to restore this site to what Illinois used to be."
Would you like to join the effort? Sign up here to participate in studies scheduled for July 16, July 25, August 4 and August 13, from 9 a.m. to noon each day.
-- Rachel Carr