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Morton Arboretum turns back natural clock to return woodlands to savanna

Scientists use U.S. Public Land Surveys in an attempt to restore the habitat of Morton Arboretum's East Woods to what it had been before European settlers cut it down and plowed it under.

Staff, volunteers research history of land, remove invasive species
By William Mullen | Tribune reporter
January 12, 2009
Generations of scientists from the Morton Arboretum have investigated forest and woodland plants across the globe, bringing back thousands of trees, shrubs and other plants to study and grow on 1,700 acres in Lisle.
But for all their knowledge of far-flung ecosystems, the arboretum's scientists had never looked very deeply at the one that used to dominate their own property-the one that thrived before European settlers cut it down and plowed it under.
Now a team of scientists and volunteers is researching that vanished ecosystem and beginning to try to replicate it on a 60-acre demonstration plot in the arboretum's popular East Woods. Just two years in, they already are seeing long-dormant native plants rebounding in an area formerly choked with invasive species.
The team believes what they are gleaning from history and experimentation will be invaluable to land conservation efforts all over the upper Midwest, especially prairie savanna landscapes.
"In order to understand what we have, we need to understand what has been here in the past," said Kurt Dreisilker, Morton's manager of natural resources. "What happened here was not unique to the arboretum, so what we learn will be useful all over the region."

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