2018 Update: Pollinators influencing male and female fitness a.k.a The Big Event

In plant populations where reproduction is mate-limited, the potential exists for selection on floral traits through both male and female function (seed production and siring success). Selection could be strong because of high variation in both male and female fitness. Additionally, most plants rely on a number of generalist insect pollinators, each of which is likely imposing selection on plant traits associated with reproduction. In many plant species, these generalist pollinators are native solitary bees. However, pollination research mainly focuses on large social bees—bumblebees and the non-native honeybee.

The main objective of this research project is to quantify how four generalist solitary bee taxa contribute to male and female fitness in the mate-limited prairie perennial, Echinacea angustifolia. To accomplish this objective, 15 researchers worked together to monitor the complete pollinator visitation in a prairie community with over 200 flowering Echinacea individuals during five days in July 2018. Through this effort, we recorded over 700 individual bee visits to a flowering Echinacea plant. To assess seed set, we removed achenes from Echinacea seedheads produced during the five observations day and xrayed the achenes for viable embryos.

Currently, we are germinating the resulting seeds and taking leaf samples. This summer, we will extract DNA from the leaf samples and genotype each sample at 11 previously optimized Echinacea-specific microsatellite loci. We will use a full paternity maximum likelihood analysis to quantify siring success mediated by the different generalist bee taxa. Our results will advance our understanding of relationships between male, female, and total fitness in plant populations. Our results will also reveal how different pollinators may cause variation in fitness. These results can help us predict the effects of changing pollinator communities for fragmented plant populations.

Everyone in exPt2 looking for bees

Start year: 2018

Location: exPt2

Overlaps with: Bees Remove and Deposit Pollen, Pollen to Seed

Physical specimens: 183 Echinacea Heads are currently being processed at CBG

Data collected: Contact Dr. Jennifer Ison for data related to this experiment

Team members who have worked on this project include: Everyone in 2018! The big event was just that- a few very big events

Big Event 3: Return of the Bees

Hello, Flog!

Today Team Echinacea tackled our third Big Event, “Big Event 3: Return of the Bees” (or “Big Event 2: Electric Boogaloo 2: Electric Boogaloo” for those who are more “systematic” as Will puts it). It was a hot and early morning, but the pollinators were out, so we were too! I worked with Riley in this event, and while I can’t speak for everyone, I can say we saw a fairly large number of correct bee visits; when we weren’t jumping to shoo away bees from plant 24-37 (which had over 200 anthers shedding pollen during the event).

Once temperatures hit over 90 degrees around 10:30, the team decided that it would be a good idea to head inside for a break.

Just kidding. Once the temperatures hit 90 degrees around 10:30, the team split up into task forces to accomplish the remaining goals for the morning. I went to move tents for Kristen’s project (no 100% confirmed capture of any bees yesterday, but there might have been one). Other task forces tackled Staffanson and P1 phenology, working through the scorcher like it didn’t even phase them.

During lunch, we had an… enlightening discussion about what constitutes a sandwich, with each team member weighing in on that age-old question: “is a hot dog a sandwich?” A few came down firmly on one side or the other, with Andy saying, “no, a hot dog is not a sandwich because if you asked for a sandwich and someone gave you a hot dog you would be surprised,” and Riley saying that hot dogs, tacos, burritos, and even pie constitute a sandwich.

It was predictably heated.

After lunch, the clouds rolled in and the wind picked up, leading to a much cooler afternoon, much to the relief of the whole team. While the measuring of plants in P7 wasn’t quite as successful as we hoped it would be, we did manage to locate a source of aphids near Hegg lake, as well as mark the location of most flowering, non-native E. pallida in the area. Also, my day was brightened by this lovely butterfly milkweed, of which this is the only plant I’ve seen this year.


Butterfly Milkweed (I think)

Get ready soon for Big Event 4: Revenge of the bees! (Or Big Event 2: Electric Boogaloo 2: Electric Boogaloo 2: Electric Boogaloo)



The Big Event 2: Electric Boogaloo

Today was the historic Big Event 2: Electric Boogaloo and while the rain may have tried to thwart our attempts to quantify how different pollinator taxa affect male fitness, Team Echinacea overcame and we had a great time watching pollinators in experimental plot 2 once the rain cleared. We saw lots of bees visiting Echinacea and spent lots of time running between plants to shoo away bees. We also played some fun games during downtime (in between the rushes of bee visits). Andy taught us Contact, which is a fun game where you try and guess the word the other person is thinking of.

The Team watching and shooing bees in P2


After we finished with TBE2EB (The Big Event 2: Electric Boogaloo) We had just a little bit of time to work on miscellaneous tasks. I worked on preparing some information to assist with planning for the big demography project and others visited Hegg Lake to decapitate any traitorous Echinacea pallida that might be lurking around.

We are looking forward to a hot day tomorrow, stay tuned for updates on The Big Event 3: Return of the Bees (Although my vote for naming #3 was The Big Event 2: Electric Boogaloo 2: Electric Boogaloo, much more systematic in my opinion).

Have a great night Flog!



Big Event: shooing bees AWAY from flowers

The team hard at work shooing pollinators

Yup you read right, today we shooed the bees from the Echinacea. Now you may be asking why would a group of scientists trying to save native bee populations tried to stop bees from pollinating flowers. Well, it’s a reasonable question. Since plants can’t move, it is difficult for them to find a mate, therefore, they have evolved to use bees to do the moving part for them. The different types of bees can have differing effects on the plant’s fitness (not how big its muscles are but how many offspring it has) and those effects are exactly what we are trying to determine with this experiment. Many plants have both male and female parts. Female being how many seeds are being made and male being how many seeds a plant helps make. This raises the question of: how good are different types of bees at distributing pollen from a plant? In order to do this, we need to have plants that are only pollinated by one type of bee. Once we have plants only pollinated by one type of bee we can track where this pollen goes using genetic work. This is where the shooing comes in, to have plants only pollinated by one type of bee we needed to shoo away the other types.

So today the entire team (except Kristen – she was busy working with bees 🙁 ) went out to P2 and worked on the male fitness project. This shooing event has been dubbed the “Big Event.” Today was the first Big Event of five(?) to come, and it was quite successful. We observed around 200 pollinators, the majority of the bees that we saw fit into the category of “small black bee” not to be confused with “medium black bees”, we also saw a fair number of Andrena which are impressive due to the great amount of pollen that each bee carries.

John holding a male Megachile

We saw some Augochlorellas, and Agapostomons – both of which are neat because they are green! My favorite of the day was a male Megachile which I have never seen before. They are very distinct with hairs on their front legs. This mere two and half hours of observations show you the high level of diversity of different bee species at one of our study sites! Can’t wait for the next Big Event titled Big Event 2: Electric Boogaloo and all of the bees that will be found then!

Gretel and Stuart examining a bee

A female Megachile on a echinacea(notice how she caries pollen on her abdomen)

See ya’ next time flog!



well I just took a shower. Showers are a big event for me because recently at least they are very infrequent. I suppose I should start taking showers more frequently because my current living situation is more civilized than when I am at school and everyone else takes showers more or less everyday so … well there are many reasons why i should take more than one shower a week here but if you want to know more i think that you should ask me. or maybe you should ask why I think it is reasonable to only take one shower a week. Anyway my hair and beard should be different now because the last time I bathed was last friday at a indoor water park in Ohio in heavily chlorinated water. My beard and hair is naturally curly/wavy but the chlorine straightened it out a bit. Let me tell you: It takes a long time to clean several weeks of oil, grease,and dirt off of you. I don’t know if anyone is still reading this but as you might be able to tell this blog is not about Echinacea at all; up until now that is. But none of our lives are completely consumed by Echinacae, except possibly stuart’s, so you should not be surprised by the varied content of this blog, and/or field log
and now for something completely different
I’m trying to stay until $13 a week for food this summer because at least I heard that that is the amount that we can get reimbursed. I calculated today that that is less than $1 per meal -in fact it is less than 62 cents per meal. I’ve spent a large chunk of it already (this being the latter portion of the first week) so if limit my spending to $5 next week and $10 for the remaining weeks i should come close to my goal
I’ve started to keep a running tally of all the ticks that i’ve found crawling on me or embedded in me. So far after the 5th day here and the 4th day of work i’ve found 15 ticks on me -3 of which were attached. I just realized that i’m missing a day so those numbers are approximate. Still that’s a lot of ticks and several more than other people have gotten. i seem to be a tick magnet. Also a mosquito magnet but not as to as an unusual extant. I guess that it’s not really worse than if i were back at the Homestead, where I perpetually had a mild case of poison ivy and was continually scratching myself and getting caught on the multiflora rose that has taken over there.
I just got a notice that i’m getting paid for the Alumni Reunion Weekend that I was part of staff for back at Denison tomorrow. i thought that I had already gotten paid for that so now i’ll actually have some spending money, but i don’t think i’ll be needing it very soon anyway.
i bought a bag of cherries at the grocery store the other day. They were in a cart and all in bags that prominently said 99 cents apparently because they were very ripe. Anyway the cashier rang them as $3.99 a pound so i ended up paying more than $10 for the bag, which i didn’t realize until 2 days afterward when most of the cherries were already gone. i’m going to go in with the receipt next time i go to the grocery store to try to get my money back. That might not be for a while though. Oh well I have to go to bed. Work is at 8 tomorrow because the Echinacae already. There are lots of things to do.
i didn’t get to the completely different stuff. too bad
maybe tomorrow

2019 Update: West Central Area Environmental Learning Center

In the fall of 2018, the Echinacea Project scientists came to West Central Area Schools (WCA) and mapped out twelve plots to transplant E. angustifolia into the following summer. The WCA Environmental Learning Center has 35 acres of restored prairie, making it a perfect place to plant experimental plot 10. During the summer of 2019, Team Echinacea planted over 1400 E. angustifolia seedlings into the 12 subplots. Three plantings were performed: the first was a planting organized by Michael and had offspring from exPt1, the second consisted of plants from Amy W’s gene flow experiment, and the third planting had offspring from the Big Event. All plants originate from Grant or Douglas County, MN. To test how different fire regimes affect fitness in Echinacea, folks from West Central Area will apply a fall burn treatment to four plots, a spring burn treatment to four other plots, and the remaining four plots will not be burned. 

The team after planting the original cohort of Echinacea in experimental plot 10. It was a long day!

During science classes with John VanKempen, WCA high school students will assess the effects of differential burning regimes on the fitness of E. angustifolia. For the first time this fall, juniors in VanKempen’s classes used data they collected on plants to answer their own scientific inquiries. Students developed hypotheses, then measured various morphological traits on surviving Echinacea in the 12 plots. The students used the data they collected to create graphs based on their data. VanKempen plans to continually integrate these Echinacea experimental plots into his classroom lessons and hopes other teachers at WCA will utilize the experimental plots for student science projects.

Start year: 2018

Location: West Central Area High School’s Environmental Learning Center, Barrett, MN.

Overlaps with: Pollinators and Echinacea male fitness, Gene flow in remnants

Data collected: Planting and survival data for seedlings planted in summer 2019. GPS points taken for plots. Planting data is available in the Echinacea Project ~Dropbox/CGData/195_plant/. Contact John VanKempen for survival data taken by his students. GPS points are available here: ~Dropbox\geospatialDataBackup2019\planting2019\nailStakeWCA.csv

Products: High School Posters. Contact John VanKempen for info.

Meet Team Echinacea East:

Hello flog long time no see!

Team Echinacea East working out of America’s premier college for mentored undergraduate research (lol) had a busy day! This summer we will be performing paternity tests on the seeds made during the big events from last summer. Today we did a set of DNA extractions on leaf tissue that was grown in the spring. This is a very long process and was a fairly novel process for all involved but everyone did a great job! Especially our Extraction Extraordinaire: Miyauna who led us fearlessly through the treacherous and tedious process.

The Extraction Extraordinaire hard at work.

While the samples were in the water bath Dr. Ison/Jennifer gave a very interesting presentation giving background on previous work done by members of team echinacea. For lunch we stole some extra boxed lunches from a high school camp going on in the building (they were very good). These stolen lunches gave us the fuel necessary to finish the days work.

Miyauna and Ren working on seed germination

Seed Master Ren finished putting all of the seeds in cold stratification. We have the seeds in the cold so they think its winter, then we take them out of the cold.

The seeds chillin’ mid “winter”

When all this was going on I (R clumsy ninja) was working in R analyzing genotyping data from a different project.

Tomorrow we will start running PCRs on the DNA samples we extracted today, under guidance of Avery the President of PCR.

Until next time,



Recap of past year & summer 2018 field season

It’s time to recap everything that’s been going on with the Echinacea Project for the last 12(ish) months – and trust me, it’s a lot! We report all of this info annually to our two major grant providers, CBG & UMN. This includes all of our lab and field activity.

Last spring the lab was busy as always. Led by Tracie, volunteer citizen scientists at the Chicago Botanic Garden finished cleaning heads harvested in summer 2016 and began cleaning heads harvested in 2017. These volunteers clean heads to remove all the achenes, which are then counted to give us an accurate metric of echinacea plant fitness. There were a lot of heads from 2017, and volunteers continued to clean them through the summer

A bunch of undergraduate students have worked on projects in the lab this past year, including Emily, Emma, Leah, Julie (joining Team Echinacea 2019!), Tris, Sarah, and Evan. It’s always great to have undergrads in the lab – they learn a lot from us, and we learn a lot from them! Of course, graduate students were hard at work as well. Lea not only analyzed her data regarding seed set in Liatris and Solidago, but also set up a whole new experimental plot in California. Kristen, along with volunteer Mike Humphrey, is making a collection from the hundreds of bees she caught this summer in her yellow pan traps and emergence tents.

[STUART – add something here about papers that have been written/ are currently being reviewed by journals?]

Now on to the big part of this report – our super-productive 2018 field season! The 2018 summer team (pictured) included three undergraduate students from Minnesota Colleges (Andy, Brigid, and Riley),  three undergraduates in the Ison Lab at the College of Wooster (Evan, Mia, and Zeke), two high-school students (Anna and Morgan), one high-school teacher (John), one graduate student (Kristen), two recent college grads (Michael and Will), and, of course, Stuart. Gretel and Amy also came to the field intermittently throughout the summer.

We summarized the progress we made on many summer projects this past year and made flog posts about the ones where considerable new progress was made. You’ll notice this part may look remarkably similar to previous years – we’ve been conducting many of these experiments for many years!

As always, we measured survival, growth, phenology, and flowering effort of our model plant, Echinacea angustifolia, in several experimental plots. The earliest was established in 1996 and the most recent in 2015. For many of these experiments it was business as usual, and if you’re interested in learning more about them we’ve linked to their background pages below. We spent quite a bit of time measuring plants in the qGen2 & qGen3 plot (exPt 8), and while many of the plants are doing well, we had almost 50% mortality from 2017 to now. In Amy Dykstra’s experiments, we continued to monitor plant survival and growth. While mortality is low, there are still no flowering plants!

Otherwise, here are new 2018 update flog posts about new data in the experiments that take place in our common garden experiments. Michael is currently working on a manuscript about the effects of pollen limitation in echinacea:

In addition to out common gardens, we make observations of Echinacea plants in natural prairie remnants in our study area. These observations include flowering phenology, survival, reproduction, and incidence of disease. Amy is currently investigating remnant flowering phenology for her PhD.

Echinacea angustifolia interacts with and shares space with many plant and insect species. Here are updates and flog posts about projects on species that are echinacea-adjacent. Kristen is using the data collected about pollinators on roadsides and ground nesting bees for her Master’s thesis.  Andy found this year that aphids have virtually no effect on the fitness of echinacea plants. While no one this year is specifically looking at Hesperostipa, its worth noting that we did go out and check! We found only a few seeds, but collected them anyway.

Also, we have some new projects that don’t necessarily fit into any of the above categories. Here are updates of their projects.

And finally, we are worried about non-native Echinacea plants that are used in restorations and how they impact populations of the native Echinacea angustifolia. We have several ongoing experiments that investigate a population of Echinacea pallida introduced within our study area. Riley used the plants in P7 to gather data for his senior thesis at Gustavus Adolphus College.

Team Echinacea 2018 at exPt2. From left to right: Gretel, Amy, Will, Evan, Morgan, Zeke, Mia, John, Anna, Kristen, Andy, Brigid, Riley, Michael (Stuart took the photo)

2018 Update: Pollen to Seed

Over 90% of flowering plants rely on insect pollinators for sexual reproduction. Pollination biologists often quantify pollinator effectiveness by counting the number of pollen grains a pollinator deposits on a plant’s stigma in a single visit. However, flowers in the Asteraceae, like Echinacea, are uniovulate, meaning that a there is just one ovule per style. Therefore, it theoretically only takes one viable pollen grain to fully set seed in an Echinacea ovary, which means the standard method of quantifying pollinator effectiveness may not be appropriate for Echinacea and other members of the Asteraceae. In this study, we wanted to estimate how many pollen grains are really necessary to set a seed in Echinacea angustifolia. We performed 60 hand crosses with varying levels of pollen deposited. Each cross consisted of nine total styles of which three were removed before the cross to get estimates of self-pollen deposition, and six styles were crossed with pollen from other flowering individuals. We then collected styles and stained them using fuchsin gel and to count the number of pollen grains using a compound microscope. We x-rayed the achenes, fruits, from the crosses to determine if a seed was present. Preliminary data shows that seed set varies with the pollen grains deposited. These data will advance our understanding of pollinator effectiveness in this uniovulate plant. By increasing our understanding of pollinator efficiency in the Asteraceae we can better predict the consequences of pollinator declines in fragmented habitats, such as the North American tallgrass prairie.

Mia doing one of her many, many crosses

Start year: 2018

Location: exPt2

Overlaps with: The Big Event, Bees Remove and Deposit Pollen

Physical specimens: 183 Echinacea heads were dissected at the College of Wooster in fall 2018. They are currently being processed at CBG.

Data collected: Contact Dr. Jennifer Ison or Mia Stevens for data related to this experiment

Team members who have worked on this project include: Mia Stevens (2018) is the lead on this project.

Be the Bee

Post the Big Events you may think that the team’s trips to experimental plot two would be few and far between, well you would be mistaken. Zeke, Evan, Jennifer, and I (hereafter “Team CoWBee”) have been busy working there doing pollinator observations and a lot of painting. Today we went straight to Hegg Lake allowing us to get there while the bees were still sleeping. Zeke and Evan were busy watching the bees. Andy and Morgan joined us to work on phenology. While that was happening I was preoccupied with my independent project. What is my independent project you ask? Well, let me tell you!

Lunch with a view

In pollination biology, it is often thought that the more pollen grains a bee deposits the more efficient it is (the better it is for the plant). However, Echinacea technically only needs one pollen grain to make a seed. Once you consider that not all pollen grains are viable more than more may be necessary to ensure a seed is made. My question is how many pollen grains are necessary for there to be a 90% chance that the seed is made. How in the world am I doing this you may ask? Well, I must be the bee. Not literally but I need to deposit different amounts of pollen on styles and see if a seed is made. To deposit the pollen, I have been using toothpicks, a flosser picks, and a patience. Once I deposit the pollen I will come back remove the style allowing me to count the amount of pollen under a microscope. Today I spent the majority of the time being a bee, performing these hand crosses so that I can remove the styles tomorrow. My goal is to perform a total of 480 crosses (80 heads) (half of these are backups) today I did 54 crosses (nine heads).

Toothpicks aren’t only for hors d’oeuvres

Who uses flossers for their teeth?

A style under a microscope

Still, have a lot of work to do so until next time!