Congrats volunteers and students!

It’s been a busy spring at the lab: 11 volunteers and 6 students from Northwestern and Lake Forest College contributed to the Echinacea Project. We are currently wrapping up before field season starts, and we want to celebrate everything they accomplished in the last few months! Since January, volunteers and students:

  • Finished cleaning cg2018 (4 bags)
  • Cleaned 9 bags from cg2019 (only 4 left!)
  • Finished scanning rem2020 and rem2021 (359 heads)
  • Counted 194 heads from rem2020
  • Finished randomizing rem2020 (221 heads)
  • Randomized 227 heads from rem2021

And that’s just Echinacea. People also worked on several other prairie species: Liatris aspera, Lilium philadelphicum, and Andropogon gerardii.

In total, volunteers and cleaned ~1,014 Echinacea heads, scanned 359 heads, counted 194 heads, and randomized 448 heads. Citizen science at its best!

There are 106 heads from rem2021 left to randomize. Can we finish by next week???

Liatris Update

Good news on the Liatris front: all hands-on work, from harvesting to x-raying, is complete! The process began in the summer of 2021 and involved lots of help from the field crew, wise, long-term Team Echinacea members, eager and efficient short-term members, and everyone in between.

Mia V and I were also able to complete data entry and data cleaning today, paving the road forward for analysis.

Now that we’re moving on to computer work, we came up with some primary questions to pursue (and some hypotheses):

  • Is there a significant difference in seed predation rates between burned and unburned and unburned remnants?
    • We suspect that predation will be higher in burned remnants because density of plants will be higher
  • Is there a correlation between seed predation rates and plant density?
    • We hypothesize that higher density will be correlated with higher rates of predation
    • We will use nearest neighbor as our measure of density
  • Is there a correlation between individual plant size and predation rates?
    • We hypothesize that larger plants will receive higher rates of predation
    • We will use number of flowering heads as our measure of plant size.

I’m now in the process of making plots to help us visualize the data we’ve collected, and soon we can begin to seek answers for our questions.

Because none of our questions at the moment directly relate to pollination, we don’t need to quantify seed set, which is the “classify” step. Using the x-rays to count how many achenes contain seeds is our method of determining pollination rates (seed = pollinated, no seed = not pollinated). This step will likely stay low priority for awhile, so don’t fret about the empty bar. All part of the plan.


burning lcw 2022

After finishing up at nice island, our crew departed for the next set of burns. Our hope was to burn Loeffler’s Corner west as well as an adjacent 10 acre unit with gorgeous prairie hills. Unfortunately, minor delays and a couple bureaucratic hurdles outside of our control slowed us down. We chose to prioritize the smaller lcw unit (~2.25 acres). We ignited a test fire in the southeast corner of the burn unit and secured the southern burn break. Once a little black had been established, Stuart and Dwight began lighting along the eastern edge of the burn unit while Brad and I ignited along the western edge. Per and Ed patrolled the break and Alex monitored the weather. This was another slow burn through mostly brome. Around 4:45 PM, the winds began to die down so we hurried to ignite a headfire along the northern edge of the unit in an effort to avoid putting smoke on Hwy 55. Although the fire closed slowly, the burn was quite thorough and will help set back brome. Stuart and I were reminded of the lce burn from spring 2021 in which nearly the same situation unfolded just across the road. The projected stiff north winds lost their energy resulting in light and variable winds. We suspect local topography may be to blame.

Temperature: 67 F
Relative Humidity: 34 %
Wind Speed: 12 mph
Wind Direction: NNW
Ignition time: 4:06 PM
End time: 5:27 PM
Burn Crew: Jared, Stuart, Alex C., Per, Dwight, Ed C., Brad D.

burning nice island 2022

After navigating uncertainties about weather and electricity, we ventured up to western Minnesota for a promising burn window. Steady northwest winds, dry fuels, and suitable conditions left us eager to burn on Monday, May 16. Alex, Per, Stuart, and I worked all morning to ready burn breaks in preparation for the afternoon. We were joined by Brad D., Dwight, and Ed C.

Our first unit of the afternoon was the ironically named “nice island.” This unit comprises an eggplant-shaped peninsula of grass extending into an agricultural field. We are studying Green Milkweed and Rough Blazing Star reproduction at this site. After taking weather, discussing the burn plan, and orienting new crew members to their tools, we ignited a test fire in the southwest corner of the unit. The crew then split in half. One group secured the eastern burn break while the second group ignited and secured the western burn break. Once sufficient black had been established, Brad ignited west along the northern edge of the unit while I ignited east along the southern edge. Our hope was the fire would close on itself rapidly but this burn was much slower and smokier than expected (probably owing to the higher relative humidity and the abundance of brome that had greened up after rain and warm temperatures). Slowly but surely, the flames came together leaving a uniformly black burn unit. We are excited to see a nicer post-burn version of nice island this summer.

Temperature: 64 F
Relative Humidity: 44 %
Wind Speed: 11 mph
Wind Direction: NW
Ignition time: 1:32 PM
End time: 2:29 PM
Burn Crew: Jared, Stuart, Alex C., Per, Dwight, Brad D., Ed C.

Liatris Update

Liatris aspera 2021 progress in the lab is steadily marching on. Thanks to the work of the Carleton externs last winter, we began Northwestern’s spring quarter essentially halfway done (only needing to do some brief back-peddling due to a change in protocol).

With the help of work study Mia V., cleaning, the process of removing the achenes from the flowering heads and gather data on achene-per-head count, is completely finished. Mia has also made excellent progress on randomizing, the step where we select a random sample of achenes to be x-rayed as well as quantify seed predation. We’re on track to finish randomizing later this week or next. Following that, we can x-ray the final batch of 56 liatris, allowing us to quantify seed set, and all the hands-on work for our 234 liatris from 2021 will be complete!

Priorities going forward:

  • Finish randomizing and x-raying for batch D
  • Complete randomization data entry and verification
  • Develop methods of data analysis to compare
    • Burned vs. unburned predation rates
      • In regards to density
      • In regards to number of heads per plant
  • Develop methods of classifying seed set from x-rays (low priority)

burning btg 2022

After completing the nwlf burn on May 6, we packed up and drove south taking the scenic route to btg. Our goal was to get a look at TNC’s Staffanson west burn. Just north of the intersection of Hwy 27 we spotted a Swainson’s Hawk. Stuart noted this is the first time he has seen a Swainson’s Hawk in Douglas County. The Staffanson burn was ongoing, though the north and west lines were solid black. We circled around to btg in time to see a large column of smoke rising from Staffanson west. Presumably this was the head fire hitting the kettle pond.

Unlike the prior burn units, we had just received permission to burn btg and were not able to mow breaks. We decided the best course of action would be igniting along a wet line on the western and southern edges of the burn unit. We took weather, walked the unit, divided up responsibilities, and ignited a test fire. Stuart and Trygg wet lined down the western edge while I ignited. Upon turning the corner along the southern line, the more southern wind picked up and pushed a head fire across btg. The result was pretty good coverage and an efficient burned. Once the smoke dissipated, we packed up and returned to the farmhouse. Our plan was to burn Jean’s prairie garden quickly and then divide up. Alex and Trygg would take the GPS unit to shoot the boundaries of burn units while Stuart and Jared put away equipment.

Six experimental burn units in one afternoon… not too shabby.

Temperature: 69 F
Relative Humidity: 30 %
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind Direction: SSE
Ignition time: 4:35 PM
End time: 4:50 PM
Burn Crew: Jared, Stuart, Alex C., Trygg

burning nwlf 2022

Continuing our May 6 burning adventures, we departed mapp and drove west to nwlf. Our goal was to burn nwlf when conditions were most extreme to maximize burn coverage at nwlf.

After arriving at the site, staging equipment, and taking weather, I ignited a test fire in the NW corner of the unit. We were pleased with fire behavior and went ahead with securing the north edge of the burn unit. After rounding the tricky northeast corner, I tried extending the black in the ditch with little success. The fire did not carry well in the bottom of the ditch. We decided the best course of action was to ignite along the eastern edge of the unit before igniting in the ditch. I used a lot of fuel in the bottom of the ditch. This generated a lot of smoke but didn’t dramatically improve burn coverage in the bottom of the ditch at the north end of the unit. I ignited one more line along the western edge of the unit for good measure. The smoke soon subsided and we were left with a sufficiently charred ditch to leave us proud of our work. We packed up and departed for our last remnant burn of the afternoon.

Temperature: 69 F
Relative Humidity: 31 %
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind Direction: SE
Ignition time: 3:30 PM
End time: 3:58 PM
Burn Crew: Jared, Stuart, Alex C., Trygg

burning mapp 2022

Upon completion of our waa burn on May 6, we ventured north to mapp. After a quick discussion, we decided to enlarge the unit by ~10 m to the west just in case there were any Echinacea plants lurking outside the area where plants have flowered in the past. Stuart ignited a test fire in the NW corner. We installed a wet line along the western edge of the unit and Stuart ignited along the north edge. We secured the eastern edge where fuels were a bit heavier and watched the interior of mapp burn slowly and patchily. The thin film of silt seemed to prevent litter from burning in spots. We tried igniting unburned patches in the interior but soon concluded it was not worth the effort. We were eyeing at least two more burns and wanted to move quickly. While packing up equipment, we noticed a large plume of smoke rising from Staffanson!

Temperature: 68 F
Relative Humidity: 31 %
Wind Speed: 11 mph
Wind Direction: SE
Ignition time: 2:45 PM
End time: 2:58 PM
Burn Crew: Jared, Stuart, Alex C., Trygg

burning waa 2022

After conducting a successful burn in the pilot Andropogon plot and eating lunch on May 6, we packed up our equipment and ventured over to waa to conduct two prescribed burns. Echinacea within two small patches at waa separated by ~100 meters. We chose to burn two small patches given our time constraints and the prairie restoration with lots of fuel immediately to the north. Plus Douglas County Parks plans to burn the restoration and ditch within the next couple years.

After staging equipment and taking weather, we ignited a test fire in the NW corner of the western unit. Fire behavior looked good so we secured the western edge of the unit before igniting along the northern edge. Stuart did what he could with the drip torch but the burn was patchy and crept slowly. Light and discontinuous fuels made a thorough burn impossible but the Echinacea patches burned well so we moved on to the east unit.

Our procedure was identical for the eastern burn unit: test fire, secure western edge, ignite along northern edge, go back with drip torch to ignite unburned patches to the best of our ability. Fuels in the eastern unit were more continuous but also greener. The eastern unit of waa was also somewhat patchy but the patches of Echinacea experienced good fire and we had our eyes on additional burns…

Temperature: 69 F
Relative Humidity: 31 %
Wind Speed: 6-10 mph
Wind Direction: SE
Ignition time (west): 1:47 PM
End time (west): 2:00 PM
Ignition time (east): 2:08 PM
End time (east): 2:35 PM
Burn Crew: Jared, Stuart, Alex C., Trygg

burning androPilot (east) 2022

To kick off our 2022 burn season, we conducted a prescribed burn in our eastern pilot Andropogon experimental plot on Friday, May 6. We burned the western plot in spring 2021.

After staging equipment and checking the weather with our new bluetooth-enabled Kestrel, we ignited a test fire in the NW corner of the plot. The fire looked great and out mowed break was doing its job so we proceeded with the fire. Stuart kept watch over the northern line while Alex and Trygg tended to the western edge. We allowed the fire to back downhill against the wind. After putting in a few strips to quickly widen the black, we ignited along the eastern and southern lines. The headfire quickly ran uphill. Apart from areas with discontinuous fuels along the northern edge, the burn was pretty thorough. Stuart noted that the wind was consistently southeast except for a southern push when we ignited the headfire. We agreed that lighting the headfire sooner would have been possible given conditions and the fire behavior we observed. All-in-all, a successful first burn of 2022 for the Echinacea Project. We are eager to learn how Andropogon gerardii responds to fire.

Temperature: 65 F
Relative Humidity: 37 %
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind Direction: SE
Ignition time: 12:03 PM
End time: 12:24 PM
Burn Crew: Jared, Stuart, Alex C., Trygg