Anna Kathryn Farrell


  • Time Zone

  • Organization
    Northern Illinois University

  • Role
    Scientist Mentor: I will mentor teams of students online

  • Research Interests (300 words)
    I research plant functional diversity in restored prairies. Functional diversity is like species diversity, but also takes into account the role that each species plays in the ecosystem, or its “function”. Functional diversity is important because it can provide a better picture of the complexity and diversity within an ecosystem that species diversity alone can provide. I am interested in studying this in restored prairies because prairies are one of the most degraded or converted ecosystems in North America. Prairies once covered most of the Midwest, but have since lost over 99% of their original area to farming and development. Restoring prairies is very important for reclaiming natural areas, eliminating invasive species, and providing habitat for native wildlife. Functional diversity is important in restoration ecology because it can inform land managers on whether their goal of creating a healthy ecosystem is met, and if the various functional roles are fulfilled by the species in the ecosystem. My research requires me to work directly with land managers to learn about their restoration techniques and to investigate how these techniques affect the plants in the prairie, and their roles in the ecosystem. For example, bison can be reintroduced to a restored prairie to promote patchy landscapes through grazing. My research looks at how the bison grazing changes the diversity of plant species, and how that affects the plant functional diversity. Do they plants grow taller? Are the leaves thicker? Do the leaves hold more carbon or nitrogen? How does that affect the growth of the plant? All of these questions lead to answers about the plant’s role in the ecosystem, and if that role is contributing to a healthy restored ecosystem. My research interests in plants and restoration ecology provide the opportunity to restore important habitats to healthiest possible state.

  • Profile Question 1
    Can you share a funny/interesting lab or field story?

  • Answer the question you selected for profile question 1 here (300 words):
    The prairie that I do my field research in recently reintroduced a herd of bison. As these bison are meant to be completely wild and not disturbed by humans, we have to try to avoid the herd while also reaching our field sites to set up experiments and collect data. One day, the herd of bison was off in the distance on a hill, and we were setting up a field experiment in the field below. The bison were slowly moving towards us throughout the morning. As we were finishing up, the herd was suddenly creeping closer and closer to our vehicle. To set up the last site, I had to sprint through the tall grass and back to the vehicle, which was ready to drive away as soon as I jumped in! The bison have been known to walk through our experiments, step on traps, eat plants we were studying, and steal our flag markers. We love having these awesome animals back in the ecosystem, but they sure make doing research tricky!

  • Profile Question 2
    What was the first science experiment you ever designed? How did it turn out?

  • Answer the question you selected for profile question 2 here (300 words):
    The first experiment I ever designed on my own was for my undergraduate senior thesis. I wanted to test if one population of a wildflower species was more tolerant of magnesium in the soil than another population that lived on a different soil type. Well, I way overestimated the amount of magnesium to add to the water for each treatment, and ended up killing most of my plants! After some troubleshooting, and the help of a graduate student, I was able to change my methods and figure out the right amount of magnesium to add. The end results were really cool, and one population was shown to tolerate higher amounts of magnesium than the other! It was a lot of fun going through the trial and error, and working through the scientific method on a project that I designed myself.

  • Profile Question 3
    What is a typical day like for you?

  • Answer the question you selected for profile question 3 here (300 words):
    A typical day for me during the school year starts with a morning run. I like start my day off with some exercise to wake me up and get me energized for the day. After breakfast, I drive to campus for morning lectures and meetings with my lab and my advisor. Between classes, I read papers, work on lab tasks for my research (like weighing dried plants we collected during the summer, entering data, etc.), and work on class assignments. Later in the day I TA a biology lab, and guide undergraduate students through the experiments we are doing that day. After teaching, I drive home and take my dog out to play for an hour or so. My evenings consists of going to gym or rock climbing with friends, cooking dinner, and possibly working on more school work, TA tasks, or research. I like to unwind before bed with a good book, or play some calm music and doodle for a while. My days are often very busy and packed with things to do, but I always find a way to make time for myself and my hobbies, and stay balanced.

  • Capacity: How many teams at a time are you comfortable working with?

Recent Posts

Group 6 Hannah, Hunter, Megan Anna Kathryn Farrell

Hi everyone!

I'm very excited to start this project with you!  Little bit about me:  I'm a Master's student at Northern Illinois University, and I research how bison grazing and prescribed fire affect restored prairies.…

shsnewhousefall2017 project 3 Anna Kathryn Farrell

Specifically, what are the different types of lights being used? Think about trying to explain this project to someone who isn't in the classroom with you, like a parent or a neighbor.  Being able to explain experiments to people other than…

shsnewhousefall2017 project 3 Anna Kathryn Farrell

Cool! It makes sense that the 4% CO2 would have the most leaf disks floating in it because that one has the most CO2 to supply the leaf for photosynthesis, making it float.  Light is another necessary part of photosynthesis, so changing light…


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