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.


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