Soil microorganisms are an integral part of all ecosystems worldwide, but they often go unnoticed. These tiny pillars of the soil environment perform a variety of incredibly important ecosystem functions, such as carbon sequestration and nutrient cycling. In addition, they also help to build more resilient soils, remove soil contaminants, and can help to regulate some disease and pest populations.
On a beautiful, fall-like morning last week, a group of East Central Illinois Master Naturalists met around the tailgate of a truck at Meadowbrook Park in Urbana. Everyone was handed a pair of hand pruners and a few paper bags before heading out into the Meadowbrook prairies. Urbana Park District Natural Areas Coordinator, Matt Balk, began the day with a description of the objectives he hoped to accomplish and then lead the group off toward the first area of prairie.
Native plants offer a whole suite of ecosystems services that are often taken for granted. The faunal associations with our native flora run deep and, through this plant-animal connection, support the ecosystems of the natural world here in central Illinois. Planting native species, even on a small scale, can have a profound impact on the wildlife of Illinois if gardeners and landscapers start to adapt their designs to include more native plants.