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Jessamine Finch

PhD Candidate

Graduate Program in Plant Biology and Conservation Northwestern University and Chicago Botanic Garden

Major adviser: Kayri Havens-Young, PhD

Research: Germination ecology of Asclepias spp. in the Midwest U.S.

Research Interests: Climate change; seed biology; milkweed (Asclepias spp.), ex situ conservation; restoration ecology; range dynamics; plant migration; urban ecology

Current Research

Global climate change is a critical topic in ecology and conservation, and is predicted to have a marked impact on plant species performance, persistence, and future colonization. Early life stages are more sensitive to changes in climate than adult stages, which could serve as a major bottleneck to recruitment. My research investigates the germination ecology of three common members of the milkweed genus to define variation within and among species (Asclepias incarnata, A. syriaca, A. verticillata). I will use molecular genetic techniques (SSRs) to compare genetic structure for populations along a latitudinal gradient in the Midwest U.S. I predict that germination tolerance range will increase as genetic structure decreases, potentially buffering species against rapid climate change. Laboratory germination trials will be confirmed in the field using a climatic gradient as a proxy for future climate change.

Monitoring Pitcher's Thistle (Cirsium pitcheri) on the dunes of Lake Michigan (P. Vitt)

Other Projects:

Milkweeds are highly restoration relevant, both as an important nectar source for pollinators, and as the obligate host plant of the imperiled monarch butterfly. Given the mounting monarch conservation efforts occurring in urban and otherwise developed areas, I am interested in assessing the suitability of urban milkweed populations for monarch reproduction and defining the optimal milkweed genotypes to use in such gardens. Larval monitoring has been conducted along an urbanization gradient encompassing Chicago, IL. Preliminary results suggest that suburban areas may be larval “hot spots.” A national citizen science dataset will be investigated to determine the extent of this pattern. To test for local adaptation to the urban environment and inform best practices for urban restoration I am conducting a reciprocal transplant experiment between multiple urban and rural common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) genotypes.

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) (J. Finch)

Grants, Honors and Awards

  • 2017 Alumnae of Northwestern University, Grants Committee
  • 2017 Botanical Society of America, International Botanical Congress Travel Award
  • 2016 Natural Areas Association, John W. Humke Student Scholarship
  • 2016 Illinois Association of Environmental Professionals, First Place Student Research Grant
  • 2016 Illinois State Academy of Science, First Place Graduate Student Oral Presentation in Botany
  • 2016 Northwestern University, Conference and Travel Award in Plant Biology and Conservation
  • 2015 Northwestern University, Plant Biology and Conservation Research Award
  • 2015 Illinois State Academy of Science, Botany Chapter Travel Award
  • 2015 Illinois State Academy of Science, Student Research Grant
  • 2015 Northwestern University, The Graduate School, Conference Travel Grant
  • 2015 Sigma Xi Grant-in-Aid of Research
  • 2014 Botanical Society of America, Graduate Student Research Award
  • 2014 Northwestern University, Plant Biology and Conservation Research Award