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Sometimes your best isn’t good enough

This morning Priti and I learned how to use the computer to count scanned achenes. I found counting to be a much smoother process than cleaning and, in a couple of hours, had counted over 5,000 achenes. An average Echinacea head produces about 150 achenes. The number of achenes a head produces is a pretty good indicator of what is called “reproductive effort”, the energy expended in the pursuit of reproduction. Sadly, a harsh reality of life is that reproductive effort doesn’t always translate into reproductive success. A much better predictor of fitness is seed set or achene viability, however this is difficult to find without splitting open every single achene. However here at the Echinacea Project they have quite the clever work around, X-Rays! Each sample of achenes are randomized and those fruits that make it through are collected into sheets of 20 samples and doused with low, completely safe levels of white-hot X-radiation. The X-ray images are fed into a computer program which allows researchers (like me!) to see inside and classify them by the fullness of their embryo (Empty, Full, or Partial). This provides a stronger indicator for the fitness of the individual plant. The coming week I am excited to learn more about what affects Echinacea seed set or reproductive success.

Maybe the fittest plants are those who avoid collection

Biomass

Hello All!

It has been an exciting and busy two weeks here in the Lab. I have been weighing the collected biomass of four species of California wildflowers (Lasthenia californica, Layia platyglossa, Collinsia heterophylla, and Phacelia tanacetifolia) to assess their reproductive fitness. A poster (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oRo2z_u-9EE) completed this past summer by Keyzamar Román found that, at least for Lasthenia, fruit production is highest in heads produced early in the growing season where seed set is highest later in the growing season. I am curious to discover if the biomass follows a similar trend or whether it remains consistent after the plant has reached maturity. I hope to have a complete data set soon and, in that effort, I have since increased my samples per hour weighed from a rookie 15 to a meaty 25.

And Then There Was One

After the excitement of yesterday’s goat herding adventure, Riley and I were happy to return to life and work as normal today, but that didn’t stop us from checking in with our favorite mischief-makers first.

Basil photobombs Riley’s pic with the newly dubbed Cream Cheese

We knocked out a small demo site before tackling harvest in P1 and P8 before lunch. After lunch we trucked out to P2 to harvest more heads. Though Echinacea flowering has concluded, the views from the plot are still gorgeous and bright with other flowers.

You can almost smell fall on the way!
Riley carefully examines a head and determines that it should be harvested before the whole flowering stalk wanders off

After heading back to Town Hall Riley bid me farewell and took off to the Twin Cities for his brother’s wedding. The mathematically-minded may have worked out that Town Hall’s population currently numbers just one person– me! (Unless you count the 72 ghosts in the basement, of course.) That’s a pretty lonely way to live though, so I convinced Baby the goat to come home with me and rematch for the WWE title.

I’m sure no one will notice the bites missing from the couch
Four legs good, two legs [on scooter] better!

Goating through with only two

Today was a new type of day for me and Erin. When we arrived to the farm, we arrived to a ghost town. No other members of Team Echinacea present, Stuart was away, and Dwight and Jean were even out of town. The only other folks present were the goats. It was good to see at least someone was in town.

Unbeknownst to me and Erin, the goats were plotting escape. Last night, an extremely powerful storm swept through Solem Township (and most of Northern Minnesota). When Erin and I looked outside during the storm on Labor Day evening, rain appeared to be coming down in sheets. Needless to say, it was extremely windy. This left multiple escape points for goats to exit the paddock due to large dead trees and branches lowering the fence. Fortunately, Erin made a heroic decision to check if the fences had any debris, and when we saw that they were being dragged down by trees, we sprung into action.

This dead tree was a heavy one that was still partially rooted… Erin and I couldn’t move it off the fence so we had to saw it.

Our plan was simple… Erin distracted the goats with food on one side of the paddock while I went to work making sure dead tree parts were off the fence. However, while we were planning, Baby, tried to escape the fence at the section in the photo above. A while ago, Baby and I got into a bit of a tussle when I tried herding her back into the group by grabbing her and more or less dragging her back into the herd by force. While I was doing that, I tripped… Some observers said that Baby “gave me a full-out suplex” that day (that, of course, is just a rumor). Nonetheless, Erin was able to stop Baby in her tracks while she tried to escape. Erin out-muscled and out-smarted Baby to get her back into the paddock while I set up a temporary fence. Only later did I find out that Erin is the current WWE Champion.

In the end, Erin did a wonderful job distracting goats while I moved and sawed dead trees and branches. It is good to know that all the hours we spent training to herd goats finally paid off, and the two of us were able to do it alone.

The rest of the day, Erin and I went out to Staffenson Prairie Preserve and finished flowering demo, did seedling refinds at Nessman, and did some measuring in P1 (while hearing the goats bleat at us the whole time… we bleated back some, too). In the end, it was a good, productive day, and I look forward to the next few weeks of field work with this ultimate skeleton crew.

Staffenson… It’s a pretty place!

Introduction – David Zimmerman

Hello Floggers!

My name is David Zimmerman and I am a new Echinacea Project intern for Fall of 2019. I am a student at the College of DuPage, where I also work as a tutor concentrating on introductory Biology. Never having worked in a lab before, I am very excited to learn how plant and population biology research is conducted and for the opportunity to translate what I learn into a research project. I am very thankful for this opportunity and looking forward to working with you all in the future!

A little more about me:

My interest in prairie ecology was sparked relatively recently after a series of injuries sidelined me from my job as a musician. To help the healing process I began to take daily walks through the Schulenberg Prairie. As winter melted into spring I observed the landscape change with new growth pushing up through snow and debris. Curious, I bought a field guide to identify all the new plant life that now accompanied me on my walks. The more species I identified the more that appeared and as the prairie reached it full height in late summer I marveled at how such a rich ecosystem could seemingly appear from nowhere and how little I really knew about the world around me. This realization has propelled me in my study of Biology and Ecology and I am thrilled to continue my educational journey this fall at the Echinacea Project.

A peek into the life of a graduate student

This week I spent my free time exploring the wet prairies of Douglas County, MN.

This is a picture of a small piece of wet prairie. Notice the high level of biodiversity! How many different species can you see? If you look closely, you’ll notice small pink flowers (it also helps if you zoom in). Those small pink flowers are the flowers of Agalinis tenuifolia which is the species I studied in my Master’s and is a parasitic plant that feeds off the roots of nearby plants!

Today I headed back to Chicago for my Master’s defense which is on Tuesday.

I met my new roommate Nigel.
I have to drop off all my seeds at the Chicago Botanic Garden this week. I have used over 1500 coin envelopes on seed collections!

I need to get back to working on a grant, but first I want to show the world the first meme I ever made.

And take a moment also to appreciate that sometimes things just line up.

Buckthorn Bonfires and Tie-Dye

After a full morning and afternoon of demography at the Aanenson remnant, followed by some measuring in P1, Team Echinacea ended the working day with an evening of relaxation and fun! We started off with some team shirt tie-dying, led by resident experts Erin and Amy.

Amy displaying a traditional stripe tying technique, while Jay experiments with irregular band designs.
Erin demonstrates master tie-dying.

After bagging our newly dyed shirts, we started up preparations for our evening bonfire. Over the course of the past year, the goats have been eating away at the throngs of buckthorn that have been encroaching on our prairie plots. Once the goats have had their fill, all of the dead branches and trunks were gathered together to make this summer’s bonfire pile. With the fire started, the team started shucking corn, cutting sweet potato, and cutting branches for hot dog roasting.

Stuart uses a shovel to lay corn cobs into the coals
Riley roasts a vegetarian hotdog over the corn and coals.

After following our fireside appetizers with Jean’s amazing pasta made with fresh basil pesto, we finished off the night with stargazing and s’mores over the last of the embers. Overall, a great ending to a productive day in the field.

Rain Rain Go Away

Hello FLOG!

Hope you all had a wonderful Monday. Here, at the Echinacea Project, we had to wait a little bit to get our outside work started. It rained all morning and through lunch but very conveniently stopped as the time came to resume the work day. Since the plots were too wet the team decided to pick up with some demography and search for this year’s flowering plants out at Loeffler’s corner.

Throwing it back to this morning, I think it’d be fair to say that a team Echinacea trapped indoors is still a productive team Echinacea. The rainy morning called for computer time, during which many of us made progress on our independent projects and other various jobs. While the team congregated around a table in the main room of Hjelm, I took to the basement to work at my pinning station. I now have over 100 bees pinned and labeled with specimen IDs. I can use the IDs to trace each bee back to the vial and trap that it came from, along with the date it was collected. My next step was to roughly organize the bees by morphospecies(pictured below). The picture does not do them justice, but these bees are COOL! I’m excited to look at them closer and identify the many unique traits that the different species have. Allison Grecco paid us a visit today as well and it was very nice to get to share with her my project update! Best of luck with your master’s Allison!

John also shared with us at lunch, his summer project update. He has a unique opportunity to take what we do at the Echinacea Project in the summer and incorporate it into his teaching at West Central Area High School. He has a lot of fun and engaging activities planned for his students this coming school year. I’m excited for you all to hear/read more about it!

Until next time,

Shea Issendorf

Weekend Update

Hello, flog followers! It has been a while since I last posted a flog and this one is coming in a little late, but better late than never, right?

This weekend some of the crew went to the Minnesota State Fair!

The gang splurged on lots of unhealthy fair food that was delicious. We collectively got: pickle dog, peach strawberry smoothie, root beer, pickle on a stick (pictured above with Erin), french onion monkey bread, deep-fried cheese curds, nachos with cheese, sweet potato tacos, and probably more!
We saw horses and remembered how frighteningly tall they are…
We saw chickens, pigeons, and turkeys. We collectively agreed that this was the most perfect chicken on display.
I found a melancholic beauty in these star-crossed lovers’ plight. If only it were meant to be…
These were the most classic sheep we agreed. Their wool was so soft. Alpaca wool is also remarkably soft. When I have an extra $130 I think I might splurge for an alpaca wool sweater.
We eventually took a break and lounged in the shade. What a beautiful group of human beings. 😭 😭 😭 (These are crying emojis if they are too hard to see).

We had a wonderful time and many of us were totally exhausted afterward.

Echinacea and Friends

Hello Echination! Hope all is going well for the folks back home reading my flog. For us in Kensington, the week has been full of three things: demography, measuring in p1, and seedling refinds. Although these tasks can be somewhat monotonous, the team is highly efficient at the tasks and we definitely have fun doing them! One of the ways the team has had fun is by visiting the many friends we find near and on Echinacea. Many are large arthropods, but sometimes we get to spend time with cute little froggies! Look at them:

Woah, a hawkmoth caterpillar!
My personal not-favorite, a garden spider.
A FUNGUS ON BUCKTHORN!?! This is interesting… anyone have thoughts on what it is?