Team Echinacea, now and then

This weekend I traveled to the University of Georgia for a graduate student recruitment event (“Go Dawgs,” as they say,) and stumbled upon Echinacea Project alum Laura Leventhal! We rode on a shuttle from the ATL airport to campus in silence for 2 hours and then, having realized our connection, terrified the other passengers in the last 5 minutes of the journey by jabbering about Team Echinacea, the Hjelm House, goats, phenology and more.

We thought we’d seen the last of each other when we split up at TSA, and then coincidentally reunited while contemplating whether or not to buy airport mac and cheese (verdict: not.)

Laura was on the team in 2016 and worked at the Chicago Botanic Garden through the CLM program. Currently she works at UC Davis as a lab manager and is currently interviewing for PhD programs in biology. We had a great time getting to know more about each other in person than we could from reading old flog posts. I found out that Laura heard my undergraduate PI Dr. Joshua Puzey speak at a conference, and that my friend is currently applying to work with a PI at UC Davis whom Laura knows! The world of ecology is, occasionally, delightfully small.

Best wishes to Laura as she continues interviewing and I’m crossing my fingers for more Team Echinacea reunions in our travels!

Winter Internship Week 2

This past week, I continued work on multiple projects. I continued to recheck and label cleaned Echinacea heads, growing the supply of achenes that are ready to be scanned, so that we can keep the samples moving through the steps. I also spent considerable time on randomizing. I resorted the informative and uninformative achenes from some of the 2013 and 2014 collection so that they are organized in the same way as more recent samples and so protocol is consistent across the board. After resorting was complete, I did the standard randomization protocol on achenes from 2018.

In addition to working with the Echinacea collection, I continued to organized the native bee collection. One task in particular has been going through the specimens, checking the SPID numbers, and checking them off on a data sheet to confirm which specimens still exist in the collection and which ones have been removed or discarded. I have labeled each smaller box within the cases with Roman numerals and have recorded on the data sheet in which box each specimen can be found. I will continue this project in the last few days of my internship and hopefully complete it so that there is a definite record of the specimens in the native bee collection.

Winter Internship Week 1: Native Bee Collection and Research Procedures

During my first week, I have learned how to perform many of the tasks involved in processing specimens and collecting data. I have particularly enjoyed working with the native bee collection. I have assigned SPID numbers and have organized some of the specimens by grouping them together based on size and other qualities such as color and marking patterns. I am beginning to develop an eye for identifying differences between bees and am becoming more familiar with the characteristics of the various genera we are classifying them into. Examining the bees under the microscope has been especially interesting. I have been interested in bees for quite a while but have never had the opportunity to see them in such detail before. The information I already knew about bee morphology became more tangible when I could see the features so closely.

Besides working with the bee collection, I have made progress on rechecking and labeling Echinacea heads. We seemed to be behind on this task, but I have been working through many heads, getting them ready to be scanned so that we can keep them moving through the data processing steps. I plan to continue working on rechecking and labeling this week, as well as randomizing. I also hope to learn several new lab skills and continue to grow my understanding of the research process.

2019 Update: Echinacea pallida Flowering Phenology

Echinacea pallida is a species of Echinacea that is not native to Minnesota. It was mistakenly introduced to our study area during a restoration of Hegg Lake WMA. Since 2011, Team Echinacea has visited the pallida restoration and taken flowering phenology and collected demography on the non-native. This year, we decapitated all flowering Echinacea pallida to avoid interspecific pollination with the local Echinacea angustifolia. We fear that Echinacea hybrids may be infertile, so we want to avoid the establishment of as many hybrids as possible.

            This year, a team slogged through the Hegg Lake restoration to find flowering Echinacea pallida. We recorded the number of heads on each plant, the number of rosettes (some plants were absolutely massive), shot gps points at all plants, and then chopped the flowering heads off! We visited the restoration and cut E. pallida heads off on July 8th, 9th and 10th of 2019. We revisited plants and shot gps points for them on July 11th, July 12th, and August 1st.

You can distinguish E. pallida and angustifolia heads by pollen color; E. angustifolia has yellow pollen, but E. pallida has white pollen (above).

            Overall, we found and shot points for 97 flowering E. pallida. On average, each plant produced 2.5 flowering heads. That’s way more than an average E. angustifolia!The average rosette count was 5.4, another big number! The largest plant had 23 rosettes.

            We collected tissue samples of E. angustifolia, E. pallida, and known hybrids so Elif can assess ploidy at the Chicago Botanic Garden using the flow cytometer.

Start year: 2011

Location: Hegg Lake Wildlife Management Area Restoration

Overlaps with: Echinacea hybrids (exPt6, exPt7, exPt9), flowering phenology in remnants, demographic census in remnants

Data collected: Demography data, head counts, rosette counts, gps points shot for each E. pallida. Cut Echinacea pallida heads, tissue samples for ploidy analysis. Find demo and phenology visor records in the aiisummer2019 repository. Phenology visor records were taken when we cut heads and demography records were taken when we shot GPS points. GPS points can be found in Demap.

Previous team members who worked on this project: Nicholas Goldsmith (2014), Shona Sanford-Long (2012), Dayvis Blasini (2013), and Cam Shorb (2014)

Final Flog – Eli Arbogast

Three weeks have gone by fast! It’s pretty incredible how much we were able to fit into such a short time span. 

Our first week was spent getting introduced to the center and the work happening here. We met lots of people as well as lots of lab equipment! We learned how data collection happens for the study of Echinacea, by completing a large set of Echinacea achene counting using new study protocols. This study will hopefully yield interesting insights into how Echinacea plants develop and utilize resources. We also learned how XRays are used and processed (RIP to the XRay machine, gone but not forgot), and spent some time helping organize Echiachea heads for later use. 

Our second week, we continued the organization and processing of Echinacea data but also began to develop our own research inquires, based on our own personal interests and the data we had to work with. We all chose very different focuses, mine being a focus on long-term analysis of pollinator diversity and abundance measures, or “How are bee populations changing over time in the Echinacea fields?”

Bee samples that provided me with data for my work

Our third week, we focused in on our projects. Locating and processing my pollinator data took a good deal of time, so I spent a good chunk of the week processing this data as well as learning R, a widely applicable skill for someone interested in science. While I still have a lot of questions and things I’d like to explore further, I am very happy with what I was able to accomplish given the time constraints. Please see my attached presentation below for more detail and major takeaways! 

I would like to give a huge thank you to Stuart, Erin, and Riley, who made this entire experience possible. They helped us pretty much every step of the way, whether it was practicing our ‘ABTs’s, scanning seeds, or learning R from the ground up. I am very happy to have had such a productive and fulfilling winter break and look forward to more breaks, and more work like it. 

I have very much enjoyed my time here, and after 3 weeks of work am looking forward to the holidays with family, and sleeping in past 6am! 

Til next time Flog, 


Carleton Externs: Julie’s Final Flog

This last week at CBG has been busy and exciting! I’ve collected a lot of interesting data about optimal conditions for stimulating germination in rope dodder, checking my scarified seed treatments each day for radicle protrusion. It seems like rope dodder favors balmy incubation conditions, and scarification with acid and boiling water are both effective in ending the seeds’ primary dormancy. If you’d like to know more about my findings, check out my poster below!

Rejoining Team Echinacea again this winter has been wonderful. Carrying out this independent germination project has challenged me to apply my knowledge and skills in experimental design and analysis to a different kind of study than I had ever attempted. I am very grateful to Stuart and Drake for all of their help and guidance along the way. Even though I was only at CBG for two weeks, I have learned so much during that time, and I look forward to bringing everything I’ve learned here into my future endeavors as a scientist.

Goodbye flog!

Today marks the end of an awesome three weeks! Today all four of us presented our individual projects at this morning’s lab meeting. All went quite well, and it was really fun to be able to present the interesting results to the questions I have been thinking about for the last couple weeks. Here’s my report about climate factors and flowering phenology!

This afternoon we had the opportunity to meet with Andrea Kramer, another scientist in the building, and talked about the struggle and importance of getting scientists and land managers seeing eye to eye to make real progress in conservation and restoration.

We also set up the seeds from three different Echinacea species – angustifolia, pallida, and purpurea – for germination for a new ploidy experiment!

All the best

Adding florel solution to the germination blotters
Achenes ready for germination!

It has been an awesome time here at the Echinacea project, attending lab meetings, experiencing the ins and outs of a long term ecology lab, and getting to work with an awesome team of people!

-Jack Schill

Final FLOG Post

Today is the end of what has been a really cool externship! I’ve had a really nice time the last three weeks––Stuart, Riley, and Erin did a great job of helping us get a sense of what it’s like working in an ecology research lab and introducing us to what’s going on in the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Plant Science building. Some of the highlights for me were attending Echinacea Project lab meetings, getting a sense of what the building’s and lab’s culture is like through the office holiday party and an after-work get-together at Stuart and Gretel’s house, and doing a small independent research project. My project was on the impacts of inbreeding on survival and reproduction in Echinacea, and it was a great chance to get some practice using R, developing a project, and presenting it, and I learned a lot both about the study system and about doing research in general! 

Working on the Echinacea Project also helped me further pinpoint what’s important to me in a career––doing something that makes a tangible positive impact on the environment and on the planet––and helped me better understand how a career in research might allow me to accomplish that. I’m really thankful to all the people I met here for making it a good experience, especially Erin, Riley, and Stuart, and I would be thrilled to work with them again in the future! Every time I do work on prairies I like them even more.

Now it’s time for everyone to take off for the holidays. I’m looking forward to my family coming to pick me up tomorrow on the way to celebrate Christmas with relatives in Indianapolis. Working for the Echinacea Project was a great way to spend my winter break and it’s given me a lot to think about going forward! 

Thanks and take care,


Plenty of R practice!

Carleton College Extern Julie Bailard

Hi again, Flog! My name is Julie Bailard, and I’m a senior at Carleton College majoring in biology with a minor in cognitive science. I am excited to be starting my second winter at the Chicago Botanic Garden, after joining Team Echinacea last year as a winter extern and working this summer as an REU field intern. I am very interested in population and community ecology, particularly in the context of conservation and ecosystem health. Much of my previous work with the Echinacea Project has centered around one broad question: How effectively do our current methods of prairie maintenance and restoration protect and promote the health of small plant populations in fragmented habitat?

Staffanson Prairie on a gorgeous August day

This winter, I will be continuing to pursue this question in a new setting: my first germination study, using rope dodder (Cuscuta glomerata) seeds that Drake Mullett collected this summer for his dissertation research on the role of parasitic and hemiparasitic plants in prairie community health. Dodder seeds are “hard” seeds, with a tough outer coat that is impervious to water, leaving the seed dormant until that outer coat is damaged. Researchers aren’t sure how dodder breaks out of this physical dormancy in nature. While certain artificial laboratory methods for scarifying seeds have successfully broken the impervious outer coat in other dodder species, none of these methods have been applied to rope dodder, and very little is known about the optimal conditions for germinating rope dodder seeds. Interestingly, one earlier study of rope dodder distribution in Ohio prairies suggested that novel population recruitment may be positively associated with a recent history of burning. With my experiment this winter, I hope to compare the success of various scarification methods in promoting rope dodder germination, in order to identify the most effective treatment for laboratory germination. If possible, I also hope to consider the results in the context of rope dodder’s natural germinating conditions, including climate, sprouting phenology, and exposure to burning.

Cuscuta glomerata (rope dodder) seeds are about the same size as a poppy seed. And so far, no one knows how to make them sprout!
…And sprout is exactly what I want to make them do! So this week, I’ve been designing and setting up a germination experiment to figure out what scarification methods and climate conditions are best for making these seeds grow.

Outside of the lab, I am a clarinetist in the Carleton Orchestra and a consultant in our campus writing center. In my spare time, I also enjoy knitting, practicing T’ai Chi, and playing Muggle Quidditch.

Carleton Quidditch after a Halloween win against St. Olaf (in case you thought I was lying)

Externship update part 2

This week we’ve continued working towards generating achene data from the Pulse-Steady experiment. It takes time, and care is needed every step of the way to make sure the final product is something we can learn something from! Besides this, we’ve had time for research and thinking about our independent projects. I’m investigating whether there’s a difference in Echinacea offspring success when parent plants come from the same population or different populations, Jack’s working on whether climate factors like rainfall and temperature affect Echinacea flowering phenology, and Eli’s studying pollinator data from experimental plots to determine if any patterns in pollinator populations emerge.

Now we’re all reaching the “data analysis in R” step, which none of us are extremely familiar with, so we’ll be learning a lot about the kinds of questions we can ask and answer with this tool. Erin, Riley, and Stuart have been super helpful in leading us through the research process, and the last two weeks as a whole have been really informative for me on the ins and outs of scientific research and working in a plant ecology lab.

Finally, I can tell the Plant Sciences building at the CBG would be a good place to work based on the office holiday party we got to go to yesterday. From the potluck aspect to the trivia, everyone put in a lot of effort and it’s always a good time when there’s a game of White Elephant involved (I brought a box of Echinacea Plus tea and got a funky clock made out of shells in exchange! That will go great in my dorm room)!