Pollinator fidelity at MEEC

On March 5, 2022, Maris Woldin presented a poster titled “Pollinator fidelity in burned and unburned remnant prairies” at the Midwest Ecology and Evolution Conference (MEEC). See the poster below!

Aphids at MEEC

On March 5, 2022, Allie and Wyatt presented about aphids and prescribed fire at the Midwest Ecology and Evolution Conference (MEEC). See the poster below!

Roadside pollinators at MEEC

On March 5, 2022, Mia and Alex presented the Pollinators on Roadsides project at the Midwest Ecology and Evolution Conference (MEEC). They focused on the bee abundance results since the specimens had not been fully identified to species yet.

Team Echinacea at TPE

On 18 February 2022, Amy, Jared, Mia, and Alex presented at the online Prairie Enthusiasts (TPE) conference. Posters were available online during the conference (February 15-19, 2022), and conference attendees could ask questions via the chat on the 18th. Check out the posters below!

Externship Final Day and Reflection – Caitlin

Unfortunately, today marked the end of my externship and therefore my flog posts. I spent today giving my presentation at the lab meeting and reflecting with the team about my experience in the externship.

This presentation, aided by the slides attached below, represented the culmination of this externship experience and all I have learned from it. In order to answer the research question I posed, I needed the relevant data that I had spent the last three weeks collecting. From day one, I learned how to sequentially transform cut plant heads into data points that can be used to determine relationships like the burn effect on achene count and seed set. Yesterday, I learned how to visually represent and perform statistical operations on that data using R. Today, I practiced conveying not only my results to an audience of scientists but getting them to engage in my narrative and conclusions. Part of the presentation also included a discussion afterward about questions others had and contemplation about the reasons and implications surrounding certain results.

In particular, my presentation aimed to expand on the echinacea burn effects research done by The Echinacea Project at Staffanson Praire Preserve. I was curious whether the burn effect on production and pollination found in this study and various other published ones would hold up to recent years and to a study area beyond just Staffanson. As shown below, I found the burns performed at multiple sites resulted in a greater (statistically significant) increase in the seed set of echinacea heads at these sites than for those that were not burned. Feel free to take a look for more information and specific results:

Overall, this externship has increased my practical lab knowledge and experience in data processing. In general, it helped bolster my ability to form and carry out a research question all the way to the project’s completion. In addition to my own project, I got to participate in lab meetings and share suggestions and questions with people presenting their papers in progress. This exposed me to not only the workflow of data processing but the commonplace revision and discussion of ideas. Another thing this externship strengthened was my networking skills, as I sought out and spoke with multiple employees who gave me insight into their projects and how I can best pursue my interest in similar work. These people included land managers, like Matt and Joan, and Ph.D. program students, like Lea and Drake. The employees I directly worked with, like Alex, Mia, Wyatt, Jared, and Stuart, especially ensured that I was able to take all that I could from this externship and meaningfully contribute to their project’s progression. I am immensely grateful to have been a part of this experience and I can’t wait to someday join such a kind community and fascinating field of study.

Externship Presentation and Reflection

Today is the last day of the externship and we presented our findings.

After a really intense afternoon of learning to use R and working with data on Thursday, we made some graphs and did some statistical tests on the data we have been collecting (as well as spatial data that Jared and Alex got ready for us). It was really hard because I didn’t have that much experience in R, but it was really rewarding as I learned how to make the graphs I want and do statistical tests.

I was interested in looking at tradeoffs plants make in reproduction in the first place, but then I realized that I couldn’t directly quantify resources plants put into different aspects of reproduction with the data I had. I decided to change things a bit and focus on limitations to reproduction. I set up scenarios of plant’s reproductive effort under different conditions in terms of resources and tried to clearly explain it by having hypotheses and visual aids. Another potential limitation I considered was limitation in pollination, which I quantified by looking at level of isolation based on distance to neighbors. I made a lot of assumptions which I hope are true – for example that plants really would put all the resources into reproduction, and that distances from other conspecific plants are a predictor of pollination.

I didn’t find strong evidence for any of my hypotheses except that there is a negative relationship between the distance to 3rd nearest neighbor and seed set in liatris. It was interesting but also expected – isolation seems to be negatively impacting pollination and thus seed set.

The presentation went well and these are the slides I used for it.

Overall, this externship has been a really great experience. I learned so much about the processes of doing science, about what scientists do on a daily basis and how a research group functions. I’m really glad that I got to participate in the lab meeting, explore in the Garden, be a part of many processes of research and eating lunch with the lab group everyday!

I also learned that studying plants is a lot harder than I imagined. It’s a really long process, and there are many biases that could happen. Organizing a lab takes a lot of work, and making a standardized ‘assembly line’ to process hundreds of plants every year is incredibly hard. The results or findings sometimes are not what you expected, or don’t seem to make sense at all. These are all things that I never imagined to be a part of studying plants and ecology. I feel like now I have a much better idea of what the field is like and what to expect moving forward from here. I am really grateful for this experience and for everyone who made it possible.

Final Externship Reflection and Presentation – Cassie

As the three weeks of my externship at the Echinacea Project comes to a close, I’ve learned a lot about the research process and the different stages of a scientific investigation. After coming up with my main research question about density and seed predation in Liatris a couple of weeks ago, I have since been working on cleaning and randomizing Liatris, as well as quantifying seed predation in order to analyze the relationships I wanted to investigate.

After going through all the steps of getting my data ready for analysis, I got to do some data visualization and statistical tests to fully analyze the results of my project. This was done in R, where I make several graphs and ran statistical tests such as t-tests and generalized linear models.

After getting to analyze my data, I put together a presentation summarizing some of my findings and my thoughts about them. To summarize, my main research question was investigating whether the fire-induced density of flowering Liatris plants influenced seed predation, and I hypothesized that burning would lead to higher density, which would lead to higher seed predation. I found that burning did in fact lead to a higher density of Liatris plants, but there was not a significant relationship between nearest neighbor distances and seed predation, with only a very slight negative relationship between the two. There was a steeper relationship between the two in just burned plots versus unburned plots, which I thought was interesting, although I am unsure about why this is the case.

Overall, I found that the reproductive benefits of fire do not seem to be outweighed by the threats posed by seed predation, which is good news for those that want to use fire as a tool for prairie management and conservation. My entire presentation, with background information and the graphs I used, can be found below!

Overall, this experience has been very insightful into the world of scientific research, as well as all of the methodologies and tools necessary to successfully complete a project and gather meaningful data. I’ve learned first-hand the importance of things such as random, unbiased samples, having a thorough, detailed protocol, and having organized workflows and data collection methods. I have also had the opportunity to meet and talk to people pursuing ecological research and learn about that process, which has been super helpful. I think that one of my biggest takeaways from this externship is that you don’t have to have all of the answers and that there are always more questions to investigate.

wrap up internship with LFC students

Alondra, Connor, Maeve, and Marina finished their mini-internships with us. It was a great experience for them and us. We appreciate their contributions to science and conservation and they gained valuable experience. As part of their plant biology class, Alondra, Connor, Maeve, and Marina, who are juniors and seniors at Lake Forest College, worked on two projects to assess effects of prescribed fires on reproduction in Echinacea. In the lab, they gained hands-on experience in seed biology over three Wednesday afternoons, including cleaning, scanning, counting, developing hypotheses, and data management. To test their hypotheses, they developed a dataset and summarized their results. In class they presented posters and they are attached here. It was a wonderful mini-internship–thanks to Alondra, Connor, Maeve, and Marina, as well as Prof. Westley!

Winchell Symposium update

Hi Flog!

It’s Emma Greenlee, reporting from Northfield, MN on my presentation at the Winchell Undergraduate Research Symposium! This is a research symposium for students in STEM at Minnesota colleges to present their research, and I presented my work from my independent project with the Echinacea Project last summer (see this flog post for more info!). The symposium was on zoom, naturally this year, and students presented in small groups for 10 minutes each. So pretty low stakes but a really good opportunity to practice presenting to an audience and it held me accountable to finish a few data analysis and visualization things I had been needing to do for my project. This e-conference made me think I could handle and enjoy the real thing, which is cool!

That’s all for me for now, just a month left at Carleton before I’ll be heading to Nevada on a Conservation and Land Management internship doing native seed collection with the Forest Service.

Peace out for now FLOG but I don’t think you’ve heard the last of me yet!

Presenting on Pollen Interference at the Carleton Summer Research Symposium

Hi again, Flog!

This fall, I had the opportunity to present a poster about my recent field research on pollen interference at the Carleton College Summer Research Symposium on October 19. This poster focused on the parts of my experiment that tested whether false sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides) pollen interferes with reproduction in Echinacea by causing styles to shrivel. My findings suggested that this style shriveling results from a cooperation between dame and sire identity, such that applying pollen from any one false sunflower might succeed in causing style shriveling on one Echinacea plant but not another. This poster summarizes some interesting and promising early results, and I am looking forward to analyzing the presented data further in the coming months. Thank you to everyone at the Echinacea Project who helped make this experiment possible!