Building a prairie and watching for bees
 Entomology professor Alexandra Harmon-Threatt and undergraduate student Sabine Miller prepare for an evening of work in a prairie the professor created to study ground-nesting bees. Photo by Fred Zwicky
Entomology professor Alexandra Harmon-Threatt and undergraduate student Sabine Miller prepare for an evening of work in a prairie the professor created to study ground-nesting bees.
Photo by Fred Zwicky

CHAMPAIGN COUNTY, Ill. – It’s early evening as I follow the researchers to their work site on the Phillips Tract, just east of Urbana. When we get there, I immediately notice two things: We are standing in a vast grid of prairie plots with neatly mowed paths between them, and there are tents – dozens of dollhouse-sized tents.

The vegetation is only about thigh-high – the researchers planted the site in 2018 – but it’s obviously a prairie. I see bee balm, gray-headed coneflower, partridge pea and other common prairie plants. The tents are placed in tidy rows inside some of the plots.

The University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign owns this land and is using it as an outdoor laboratory where researchers and students can address agricultural or ecological questions. Entomology professor Alexandra Harmon-Threatt has taken advantage of the opportunity. She is the driving force behind this carefully planned grid, along with collaborator Anthony Yannarell from the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences.

Read more from the University of Illinois News Bureau.