Earth Day seminar: Fermilab Natural Areas’ recent efforts

Ryan Campbell worked with conservationists from the Chicago Academy of Science’s Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum to release a new species of butterflies, the Baltimore checkerspot, into Fermilab’s prairies in 2009. Photo: Reidar Hahn

Fermilab’s grounds crew has been striving to increase biodiversity and restore natural habitats on site for years. Recently, Fermilab Natural Areas has been taking part in these projects.

Ryan Campbell, consulting restoration ecologist at Fermilab and volunteer with FNA, gave a talk on Friday, April 22, where he highlighted the not-for-profit organization’s efforts to restore natural habitats and native species to the area.

“Overall, our goal in restoration ecology at Fermilab is to increase biodiversity,” Campbell said.

Fermilab is well known for habitat restoration projects, most notably for the project initiated by the late Bob Betz 38 years ago that has resulted in more than 1,000 acres of tall grass prairie, an ecosystem which was essentially extinct in 1975, Campbell said.

“This didn’t just happen overnight on its own,” Campbell said. “A lot of people have been putting in a lot of effort to restore and recreate this endangered habitat at Fermilab.”

FNA members have also been working to conserve rare plants, such as the Eastern Wahoo and prairie lily, and to reintroduce native species, including Baltimore checkerspot butterflies and barn owls.

An important part of restoration ecology is restoring disturbance to ecosystems, Campbell said. Examples of disturbances include tornadoes, tree falls, floods, grazing, insect outbreaks and fire.

While it may not be intuitive, a certain level of disturbance is necessary to prevent invasive species from taking over and inhibiting biodiversity, Campbell explained. In prairie ecosystems, many invasive species have shallow roots and are destroyed by fire, while native grasses and wildflowers with deeper roots are able to survive.

Campbell encourages people to come out and experience all the life that Fermilab has to offer.

“That means getting out in nature and experiencing different ecosystems, even if it’s just taking a walk or taking pictures of a pretty flower,” Campbell said.

The prairie lily, also known as the wood lily, is one of the rare plant species that FNA is working to conserve. Photo: Reidar Hahn

Christine Herman