Assistant Professor Vickie Borowicz from Illinois State University’s School of Biological Sciences has launched a crowdfunding campaign for her research on the role of parasitic plants in prairie communities and restoration.

Together with collaborator Steven Juliano, Borowicz is pursuing a project that investigates the direct and indirect impact of hemiparasitic plants on prairie communities. Hemiparasites are green plants that tap into the roots of neighboring plants and extract water and minerals from these hosts.

Once common, prairies are now among the most threatened of ecosystems, and restoration without intense management is challenging. Introducing native parasitic plants may be a tool to reduce aggressive species, and thus to enhance diversity in restored prairies. However, broader effects of hemiparasites on prairies are unknown. Greater diversity could also arise if hemiparasites facilitate invasions by unwanted non-native species. Land managers need to know if native hemiparasites can be used to limit other species and to enhance prairie diversity without opening prairies to such invasions.

The research goal is to evaluate species composition and environmental factors in prairies with native hemiparasites to understand these effects and to provide critical insights to land managers. The funding Borowicz and Juliano seek is for summer support for a graduate student and undergraduate assistants.

Their campaign is run through the website Experiment, which is a crowdfunding platform for scientific research.