Less than 0.07% of original prairies remain on the Illinois landscape, presenting a unique challenge for the conservation of organisms that exclusively utilize this habitat. Many species of cicada rely on remaining Midwestern prairies. Although they provide important ecosystem services through nutrient cycling, much is still unknown about the conservation status, impact of land management, host plant utilization, and life cycle duration of many species of North American cicadas.
For my graduate studies, I am investigating the impact of habitat fragmentation on Megatibicen dorsatus, a species of cicada found in prairies scattered across Illinois and the central US. Using molecular data, I hope to determine both life cycle duration and habitat connectivity/dispersal capabilities of M. dorsatus. Like many other annual cicadas, this species spends an unknown number of years underground yet emerges every year in the same area. I am also developing methodology for DNA extraction from cicada exuviae to be utilized for barcode identification. This is especially necessary in cases where an adult cicada cannot or should not be collected for conservation reasons.