May 27, 2022
Local News

New Lenox woman presents findings on snakes' role in prairie restoration

New Lenox resident Grace Wu still has a ways to go before presenting her thesis in August 2021, but she gave people a look into the research that she has gathered to this point.

Wu told viewers of her presentation on Oct. 22 that everything she presents is her early raw data, but gave a good general look at what she’s been studying.

Wu has been looking into snakes’ role in tallgrass prairie restoration, conducting her research at the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie in Wilmington.

Wu said early in her presentation that an estimated 96% of American Prairies have been lost. Prairie restoration aims to regain the ecosystem functions of a native prairie through a number of land management practices.

Plants are typically used to conduct this type of research and since restoration work is continuous with no true gauge of success, a study of snake communities might allow for more efficient restoration practices, she said.

Wu examined snakes to see if there were differences in the diversity, abundance and occupancy of the snake species with restoration sites compared through a temporal scale. She studied sites at Midewin that spanned two-to-16 years since their initial native planting.

Using 540 coverboards in 27 different transects throughout 23 different sites, Wu was able to examine seven different species of snakes. She was unable to study two species of snakes, but believes that it was because her coverboards were not set up in those snakes’ preferred habitat.

Some of her own study was built off a report done by two researchers in 1993 where they did find those two snakes.

Wu studied a blue racer snake, plains garter snake, fox snake, brown snake, smooth green snake, northern water snake and the common garter snake. She was unable to study the eastern hognose snake and queen snake.

She told the attendees at her presentation that the number of snakes in her findings shows that the abundance of snakes does not mean there are a lot of that species as snakes were unmarked.

She did capture roughly 100 snakes every week under her coverboards and used a pillow case to collect the snakes. She did say that she lost some snakes because they slipped through a tiny hole in one pillow case. When the snakes were captured, they were identified and weighed.

Wu concluded her presentation by saying she has lots of analysis to do before presenting her thesis next year, but is happy with her results.