Dordt College News

Dordt professor Jeff Ploegstra receives grant for butterfly milkweed research

May 7, 2012

Dordt College environmental studies professor Dr. Jeff Ploegstra began researching the effects of fragmentation on native prairies in 2009. As his research continues, the Iowa Science Foundation has contributed an award of $4,800 to Ploegstra to continue the research.

The goal of the project is to determine if inbreeding of prairie plants is happening, and if there is a danger in introducing seed from distant sources during prairie restoration efforts. This is done by examining the genetics of the populations of butterfly milkweed taken from a variety of prairie fragments in Northwest Iowa.

“We do this by using DNA fingerprinting on populations of plants,” said Ploegstra. “We look at how closely related the populations are to each other and how much variability there is within the populations.”

The process requires collecting and extracting DNA samples from plants of each prairie, running a series of PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) reactions on each plant, running samples through a polyacrylamide gel, and analyzing the alleles of each plant.

“It is a fairly time-consuming process, but will lend valuable insight for future conservation efforts,” said Ploegstra.

Ploegstra’s work is aided by Dordt College students serving as summer interns and several middle school and high school teachers from Florida, Illinois, Georgia, Michigan, and Iowa, who contributed a significant amount of data collection in a three-week summer research opportunity. Much of this has been funded by the Andreas Center for Reformed Scholarship and Service.

In 2005, Dordt College faculty and students began the process of restoring a tall grass prairie on 20 acres of land on the southeast side of the campus. This beautiful sea of grass and wildflowers serves as a “living laboratory” for students majoring in the sciences and helps them better understand this unique ecosystem. To learn more about Dordt College’s prairie, visit

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