Posted by: Bridgett Hernandez

  • 09/07/2021

Science Snapshot: Blue-eyed Mary

ACRES nature preserves provide researchers and citizen scientists with opportunities to study the natural world around us. By allowing scientists to work on ACRES properties, we gain knowledge from their findings that makes us better-informed stewards of the land.

Each day, these protected places serve as a setting for learning and discovery. In the coming weeks, we’ll share stories of the science happening throughout our service area. We hope these “Science Snapshots” inspire you to join ACRES in our mission to protect these places, for the benefit of all — today and forever.

Emma Boehm conducts blue-eyed Mary research.

Emma Boehm, a doctoral student with a focus in evolution, ecology and behavior at Indiana University, is examining how native plant populations respond to rapid environmental changes like climate change and general environmental variation. “This includes studying an interesting phenomenon called phenotypic plasticity, an ability to quickly change traits without changing the underlying genes,” she said.

“A great example of this in plants is stem length. If you’ve ever put a house plant in a shady part of your house, especially seedlings, you might notice that it gets a taller stem to help it find light. But put this same plant in a sunny spot or start it there, and that stem growth stops at a point since it doesn’t need to look for light anymore.”

Understanding plants’ ability to adapt and survive an extreme or novel environmental change can help inform conservation practices.

For her research, Boehm collected seeds across places where blue-eyed Mary occurs, including two ACRES sites. She will evaluate how these plants respond to novel stress

“In some states and spots in Canada, blue-eyed Mary is already an endangered or threatened species, so I’m hoping my work can help keep it from getting to that point in other places,” she said.

Boehm chose Asherwood and Dygert in part because they had large, natural populations of blue-eyed Mary. She found ACRES not only willing but also interested in finding out more.

“Out of all the research sites I’ve worked with, ACRES was one of the best and was even willing to share coordinates of where the populations were—which saved me a ton of hiking time!” Boehm said.

A big thank you to Emma Boehm for sharing her fascinating work with us!

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2021 ACRES Quarterly, mailed to members each season. The 20-page Quarterly features ACRES news, stories and events. You can subscribe by becoming an ACRES member with a donation of $20 or more. Click here to learn more!