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Cleaning 2018 is done!

On Friday, volunteers Marty and Mike finished cleaning the last batch of heads from the 2018 common garden experiment. Huzzah! The volunteers had been working on the 2018 heads back before the pandemic started, and after a long break, 2018 is finally done. Many thanks to all the volunteers who made this possible, especially the 2021-2022 crew: Allen, Char, Elif, Laura, Luk, Marty, Mike, and Suzanne! Now, we have a lot of rechecking to do.

ACE progress update

So far this year, we have sadly not been able to have volunteers in the lab due to the continuing threat of COVID-19. However, over the last few months, we made quite a bit of progress on the remnant Echinacea harvests from 2020 and 2021. In the fall, we had help from volunteers, students from Lake Forest College, and externs from Carleton College. Thanks for your help! In January, Sophia finished cleaning the last head from 2021, which was an exciting accomplishment.

To track our progress in the lab, I created an R script to visualize the various steps of the ACE process for each batch of Echinacea. The figures for rem2020 and rem2021 are included here. Hopefully, this method will work for the cg harvests as well.

The ACE stages are listed along the x-axis, and the number of Echinacea heads are on the y-axis. The light blue shows how much we have completed, and the dark blue shows what remains to be done. The small numbers on each bar indicate the corresponding number of heads, and the width of the bars is roughly proportional to the amount of time each step takes. Along the top, the dates indicate the last day that the totals for each stage were updated.

The script to create these graphs can be found here: echinaceasandbox/oop/trackAceProgressTest.R

Volunteers and mystery bees

Visiting Minnesota to plant seeds last week was a welcome break from sitting at a desk all day. However, we were glad to be back in the lab this week. On Thursday, I finished the inventory of the remnant 2021 heads, so they are now ready to be cleaned by volunteers.

We have a great crew of volunteers this fall. Suzanne wins the award for the longest volunteer record; she has been helping the Echinacea Project since 1999! In contrast, Elif joined the lab in 2019 and is our newest volunteer. So far, all of the volunteers have been cleaning seed heads, an important early step in the ACE workflow. However, many of them specialize in other steps of the process such as quality control, scanning, randomization, weighing, x-raying, counting, or classifying. Once we have made a dent in the backlog of seed heads, the volunteers will be able to diversify and find the steps that they enjoy most.

Our other project this week was to clean out the freezer in the lab. The freezer mainly contained coolers of empty vials that were used to collect bees for the Yellow Pan Trap (YPT) project. As Mia and I sorted through the vials, we also discovered one cooler that still contained bees! Why were these bees collected? To what project do they belong? Why haven’t they been pinned like all the other bees? According to Detective Stuart, “We have a mystery to solve. First stage is to gather evidence. (Don’t disturb the scene of the crime.)” I followed Stuart’s instructions and returned the cooler to the freezer. After doing some sleuthing, I now suspect that vial GQ-9417 contains YPT specimens that were collected on 31 July 2019. The other vials, however, remain a mystery. If anyone can identify the suspects or has information about the day of the crime, 16 July 2019, please let me know.

Cupcakes and cleaning

On Monday, we welcomed back our second volunteer of the season, Marty. Marty is an expert on the scanner and x-ray, but since the new x-ray machine hasn’t arrived yet, she and Allen have been our rockstar head cleaners. So far, it has taken 22 person hours to clean 85 echinacea heads.  Based on these numbers, it will take an additional 56 hours to finish cleaning the 216 remaining heads in the 2020 burn rem batch that we’re currently working on.  If the volunteers continue to work at this rate, cleaning this batch would be completed by next Tuesday, October 26. In preparation for future head cleaning, we emptied out the seed dryer and refilled it with gbags from the 2021 harvest.

To celebrate several birthdays this month, Mia baked cupcakes for us! They were very chocolatey and delicious. We even made some new friends in the Plant Conservation Science Building by offering them cupcakes.

The Echinacea Project heads south

Last week, we wrapped up the last of the fieldwork in Minnesota, although four Liatris plants are taking their sweet time and weren’t ready to harvest on Friday. The remaining members of Team Echinacea packed their bags and headed to the Chicago Botanic Garden, with the exception of Jared, who is staying to monitor the stubborn Liatris. Previously, I had never been to the Garden before, so it’s been a fun place to explore. I’ve also enjoyed the elaborate Halloween decorations in the neighborhood.

This week at the Botanic Garden, we welcomed back Allen, our first volunteer since the beginning of the pandemic. It will be terrific to have some experienced volunteers to process the backlog of echinacea heads from the past several years.

At the lab, we’re also preparing for the seed addition experiment. Today, Wyatt trained us on the seed blower, a contraption that separates light achenes from heavy ones. The heavy (rich) achenes should contain seeds, and we will next randomize the rich achenes for planting this fall. We need 12,800 seeds for the experiment, and after several trials with the seed blower, we estimate that we should have enough.

Busy as a bee

This summer Shea and John continued our yellow pan trap project to sample the pollinator community found along roads in our study area in Minnesota. Today volunteer Mike Humphrey pinned the last bee from this summer’s collection!

Mike with the collection; next he’ll be consolidating these with Shea’s pinning from this summer to be sent off for ID at the University of Minnesota!

Mike received a surprise on his last day of the year; volunteer Char found a desiccated bee in one of the Echinacea heads she was cleaning! Mike reports it’s different from anything else we have in the collection this year, so a seriously cool find.

A majority of the bees in our 2019 collection are unremarkable Lasioglossums that we call “small black bees,” but we also get remarkably shiny blue and green bees in our traps!

Thanks for all your hard work Mike, and we’ll see you next year!

Potluck 2019 – Thank you, community scientists!

Last Thursday, we had our annual Team Echinacea potluck to honor the work of lab volunteers over the past year. Stuart discussed why what we do is so important and how the work of volunteers helps us to answer important scientific questions. Some great recent milestones accomplished by volunteers include:

Allen, Sam, and Anne reaching 500,000 achenes counted

All 2017 heads have been cleaned, rechecked, and scanned

670,000 achenes were counted and 113,000 achenes were classified in 2019 (so far)

In addition to a general overview of the Echinacea Project’s goals, members of the lab who have individual projects talked about what they are working on. These projects are: Erin’s remnant flowering intervals, Drake’s prairie parasites, Lea’s floral neighborhood, Elif’s congener ploidy project, and Riley’s prairie fragment crosses. It was really great to talk about research and hear about a number of projects.

Most importantly, though, I want to thank all people who volunteer their time to the lab. Without you, the cutting-edge science we do is impossible. Truly, you are making huge contributions to science and our understanding of plant reproductive fitness in anthropogenically fragmented landscapes. Your work is so appreciated, and we are so lucky to have you all around!

Oh, by the way, the food was absolutely wonderful. 11/10.

Team Echinacea IL!
Front (L to R): Drake, Lea, Erin, Stuart
Middle (L to R): Char, Shelley, Allen, Laura, Elif, Gretel
Back (L to R): Marty, Art, Tessa, Riley, Mike, Aldo
Folks eat and Stuart talks about an Echinacea Project paper.
Stuart tries to get a good angle on a photo of Riley and Aldo – photoception.
Lea, Elif, and Riley.
Stuart, Allen, Tessa, and Shelley. Shelley did not see that someone was taking a photo.
Laura, Erin, and Stuart.

All of these photos are courtesy of Ray, a volunteer in the photography group. Thank you very much, Ray!!

Volunteer profile: Elif

Recently, Team Echinacea welcomed a new member, Elif Taskiran. Elif has a PhD in economics, but has recently expressed interest in biological sciences. The Echinacea Project is happy to have her on board! Elif volunteers her time on Fridays, where she engages in data entry and cleans heads. Elif also attends weekly lab meetings, where she engages in paper discussion and gives feedback on various works of the team (like presentations and proposals).

Elif is also very interested in using Chicago Botanic Garden’s flow cytometer to understand ploidy differences between Echinacea angustifolia, E. pallida, E. purpurea, and Echinacea hybrids. We hope this project will be fruitful! Thank you, Elif, for all of your work so far with the Echinacea Project. We look forward to your work in the future!

Elif in the lab!

The big five-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh!

Today we’re celebrating a huge milestone– Allen Wagner has counted half a million achenes!

Great going, Allen! We’re looking forward to the next 500,000!

Busy time in the lab at CBG!

Since Stuart and Team Echinacea have started summer field work in Minnesota, you might guess the lab at CBG slowed down- but you would be wrong! Last week we finished cleaning another bag of Echinacea heads, and this week we’ve gone through over half of the next bag! People counting achenes and classifying x-rays have also been super productive, and some of the newer volunteers finally got their official CBG badges. So even though there’s a lot going on in Minnesota, we’re still busy back in Chicago. Stay tuned for more lab updates throughout the summer.

From right to left, Char is cleaning, Aldo and Alan are counting, Tessa is cleaning, and Art is chatting because he was actually working outside this morning!