Team Potluck

We had a great time at our annual lab potluck on Tuesday. We celebrated all the people in the lab, including all of the undergraduate interns. Scott told us about the smoke experiment. Then Amy explained the pollinator study from 2016. Lea talked about her projects on flowering phenology. We reviewed some of our many accomplishments in the lab, including: 1) cleaning and randomizing all 1233 heads from exPt2 in 2015, 2) counting 478,069 achenes from 3078 heads, 3) scanning 1710 images, 4) assembling 198 xray sheets. This year Lois, our reigning “achene queen,” counted her 800,000th achene and Sam counted his 250,000th! This summer we have ambitious plans for the field and lab. It was a lot of fun and the food was great–an incredibly diverse spread of tasty dishes.

We took a group photo:

First row (L to R): Lois, Art, Leslie, Amy, Laura; Second row: Susie, Char, Gretel, Anne, Stuart, Allen, Mike, Ivy, Lea, Scott, Shelley. Not pictured: Aldo, Susan, Michele, Marty, Naomi, Sam, Kathryn, Lou, Suzanne, Nicolette, Sarah.

Thanks for a great year!

Ten simple rules for a short talk

Christopher Lortie presents ten simple rules for successful short and swift presentations in this PLOS Computational Biology paper.

10 simple rules:
1. Plan a clear story
2. Provide only one major point per slide
3. Limit use of text
4. Use simple visuals
5. Develop a consistent theme
6. Repeat critical messages twice using different visuals
7. Use the principle of parsimony in explanations
8. Allocate more than one slide to effectively end the narrative
9. Use the final slide for contact information and links to additional resources
10. Use timed practice

Read the article.

2016 update: Pollen addition and exclusion

Most of the surviving plants in the 1996 cohort of the common garden were basal this year

We observed that 95% surviving members of the 1996 cohort were basal in 2016

Does receiving the maximum amount of pollination vs. no pollen at all affect a plant’s longevity or likelihood of flowering in subsequent years? In this experiment we assess the long-term effects of pollen addition and exclusion on plant fitness. In 2012 and 2013 we identified flowering E. angustifolia plants in experimental plot 1 and randomly assigned one of two treatments to each: pollen addition or pollen exclusion. When plants flower in subsequent years they receive the same treatment they were originally assigned.

Across all experiments, 2016 was a low flowering year. Only four plants flowered of the 29 plants remaining in the pollen addition and exclusion experiment. We continued experimental treatments on these plants and recorded fitness characteristics.

Start year: 2012

Location: Experimental plot 1

Physical specimens: We harvested four flowering heads from this experiment that will be processed with the rest of the experimental plot 1 heads to determine achene count and proportion of full achenes. The labels for these heads, beginning with the letter “p,” identify them as part of the pollen addition and exclusion experiment.

Data collected: We recorded data electronically as part of the overall assessment of plant fitness in experimental plot 1. We recorded dates of bagging heads and pollen addition on paper datasheets.

You can find more information about the pollen addition and exclusion experiment and links to previous flog posts regarding this experiment at the background page for the experiment.

First Steps, Extremes Project

Howdy Flog Followers,

I spent the past two weeks diving into the initial process for the ‘Extremes Project’: cleaning as many seed-heads as I can get my hands on. I’m sure that all of you seasoned flog followers are familiar with this process. To clarify, cleaning a seed-head consists of extracting all of the achenes. An achene is a white ‘case’ that contains the seeds (seen under the magnifying glass in the photo below). There is a range of 50 – 400 achenes found in a single seed-head. However, specifically for the extremes project, it is important to extract the achenes based off of their location on the seed-head: top, middle, and bottom.

Top, Middle, Bottom, Other, Chaff. There are five separate envelopes that need to be filled for the Extreme extractions. I have been able to develop a method of satisfying all the categories as precisely as possible. First, I start by extracting a minimum of 30 achenes from the top, followed by at least 30 achenes from the bottom. However, the bottom is tricky because of the sterile ‘ray achenes’ found along the bottom edge of the seed-head. These ray achenes, along with unknown / runaway achenes are placed into the ‘Other; category. Then, all of the remaining achenes on the seed-head are put into the ‘Middle’ category. Lastly, all of the chaff, the leftover ‘flower guts’, is collected into its own category envelope.

The small seed-heads that I have encountered require an even more delicate approach than the others. This is based on the fact that they do not have a full 30 top nor full 30 bottom achenes that could be extracted individually. So, as a compromise, I would extract five achenes from the top and then five achenes from the bottom. While alternating, I would continue until I had a maximized amount of equal top and bottom achenes.

It has been an interesting experience working with the Extreme seed-heads. I have found lots of variation in the Extreme seed-heads. For instance, there is a great difference in sizes between all of the seed-heads. There was even a seed-head that did not have any achenes, zero. Additionally, there are more frequent occurrences of running into dead larvae and cat frass (caterpillar poop, that looks like a spiderweb-like structure) on the heads, which keeps things interesting.

Now, on to the next step: Scanning! This step allows for me to be able to count all of the seeds in all of the categories while also documenting everything digitally. Tune in next week for more details on Scanning.

The flowers on these heads bloom from the bottom to the top. We can use this information to gather at what point the flower was being fertilized by pollinators. For example, if only the bottom achenes are fertilized, then that tells us that the particular seed-head was an early-bloomer or was fertilized early in it’s blooming process. This is the reason why it is important to isolate the top, middle, and bottom achenes. Plus, isolating the achenes into these categories allows for data comparisons and individual interpretations down the road.

By the end of my analysis, I hope to use the data that I have collected to help the echinacea team find positive fertilization patterns for this plant, in order to help to conserve their populations.

‘Till next time!!

Nicolette McManus

2016 update: Echinacea pallida flowering phenology

E. pallida heads are easily distinguished from E. angustifolia by their white pollen and longer ray florets.

E. pallida heads are easily distinguished from E. angustifolia by their white pollen and longer ray florets.

Echinacea pallida, an Echinacea species compatible with E. angustifolia, but not native to our study area, was planted at a restoration at Hegg Lake WMA. One trait of E. pallida may limit its potential to hybridize with E. angustifolia individuals is the synchrony of their flowering timing, or phenology. To study this, we have kept track of the start and end dates of flowering for Echinacea pallida individuals in the Hegg restoration plot since 2011. In 2016, we identified 66 flowering plants with 113 heads. Flowering began on June 18th. Then, around July 7th, we chopped off all the Echinacea pallida heads.

Start year: 2011

Location: Hegg Lake WMA restoration

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

Physical specimens: 113 heads were cut from E. pallida plants circa 7 July 2016 (the last day of recorded phenology). These specimens were likely composted.

Data collected: We collected phenology data using handheld computers.

GPS points shot: We shot points for the 66 flowering E. pallida plants.

Products: In Fall 2013, Aaron and Grace, externs from Carleton College, investigated hybridization potential by analyzing the phenology and seed set of Echinacea pallida and neighboring Echinacea angustifolia that Dayvis collected in summer 2013. They wrote a report of their study.

Previous team members who have worked on this project include: Nicholas Goldsmith (2011), Shona Sanford-Long (2012), Dayvis Blasini (2013), and Cam Shorb(2014)

You can find more information about Echinacea pallida flowering phenology and links to previous flog posts regarding this experiment at the background page for the experiment.

2016 Update: Echinacea hybrids — exPt 9

The team after an initial measurement of p9. Blue flags are positions where Echinacea weren't found.

The team after an initial measurement of p9. Blue flags are positions where Echinacea weren’t found.

This summer, we remeasured plants in experimental plot 9 at Hegg Lake. These plants are hybrids of Echinacea angustifolia (native) and Echinacea pallida (non-native, but planted at a nearby restoration). Unlike the plants in p7, these plants came from open-pollinated parents – that is, there was no artificial crossing done.  Stuart and Lydia English planted the seeds in May of 2014. Much like with plot p7, an analysis the survival and fitness of these plants can give insight into whether or not hybrid populations can be viable in our study areas, and whether or not they pose a threat to native E. angustifolia in our remnants. We have returned to the plot each of the last three years to measure number of rosettes and leaf lengths of these plants.

Table 1 shows the number of plants found alive during each search. These plants were measured on August 4th and rechecked on August 23rd. No plants flowered this year, although there were several found that had leaves over 40cm long.

Year / Event Number Alive % Original remaining % Of prev. year
Planting (2014) 746 100
2014 638 85.5 85.5
2015 521 69.8 81.7
2016 493 66.1 94.6

Start year: 2014

Location: Hegg Lake Wildlife Management Area — experimental plot 9

Overlapping experiments: Echinacea hybrids — experimental plot 6Echinacea hybrids — experimental plot 7

Data collected: Rosette number, length of all leaves, herbivory for each plant collected electronically and exported to CGData. Recheck information for plants not found was also collected electronically and stored in CGData.

You can find out more information about experimental plot 9 and flog posts mentioning the experiment on the background page for the experiment.

2016 Update: Hesperostipa Common Garden Experiment

James counts the fruits!

Counting the fruit of a flowering plant.

In 2009 and 2010, porcupine grass (Hesperostipa spartea, a.k.a. “stipa”) was planted in experimental plot 1. In total, 4417 seeds were planted, 1 m apart, 10 cm north of Echinacea plants. Between 2010 and 2013, each position was checked, and the plant status recorded. Since 2014, we have only searched for flowering plants. This summer, 143 flowering stipa were found, with a median of 24 fruit per plant. We also checked for living plants in positions where stipa was observed in 2011 or 2014. In these additional 492 positions, 89 plants were found alive, with 19 of those plants flowering.

The following table shows how many plants have been found alive in each year.

Year Found Flowering Full Fruit
2010* 702
2011 483
2013 442 4
2014** 32 32  199
2015*** 26 1 9
2016**** 208 143 4391

(*) only one cohort (2009) included, (**) only searched for flowering plants, (***) only searched prior year’s flowering plants, (****) only searched flowering plants + subset of positions


Start year: 2009

Location: Experimental plot 1

Physical specimens: Fruits from 127 flowering plants, currently stored at the lab in Chicago. These may be used in a future study on traits of stipa‘s awns.

Data collected:

  • Culm count and number of fruits recorded on visors (backed up to CGData)
  • Fruit harvest information recorded on paper (stored at Hjelm house)
  • Status of 2011 basal plants recorded on visors (backed up to as “2016stipaRecheck2011positions” in CGData)


  • Josh Drizin’s MS thesis included a section on the hygroscopicity (reaction to humidity) of stipa awns. View his presentation or watch his short video.
  • Joseph Campagna and Jamie Sauer (Lake Forest College) did a report on variation in stipa’s physical traits within and among families in 2009


You can find out more about stipa in the common garden and links to previous flog posts about this project on the background page for this experiment.

2016 update: Aphid addition and exclusion

Ants tending Aphis echinaceae

Ants tending Aphis echinaceae

Aphis echinaceae is a specialist aphid that is found only on Echinacea angustifolia. It feeds on sap in Echinacea leaves, and can also be found on flowering heads. This aphid also attracts “ant bodyguards”, which protect the aphids from predation, and in the process may also fend off other potential herbivores. Prior studies by Team Echinacea members have demonstrated that aphid presence does not lead to significant changes in plant fitness in observational studies, although in controlled experiments aphid presence does affect herbivore damage. Furthermore, inbred plants are more susceptible to aphid presence than outbred plants.

In 2011, Katherine Muller designated a sample of 100 plants in experimental plot 1 for aphid addition or removal. The presence or absence of these aphids is maintained by team members two to three times per week. In summer 2016, aphid levels were assessed and maintained 14 times on 70 of these plants (addition on 33, exclusion on 37) from early July until early August. In September, Amy Waananen recorded signs of senescence in the leaves of treatment plants. This data can be combined with data from our common garden measuring data to explore the richness of the Echinacea-aphid relationship.

Start year: 2011

Location: Experimental Plot 1

Overlaps with: Phenology and fitness in P1

Data collected:

  • Aphid counts for each treatment plant on each observation day, on paper
  • Leaf senescence data, recorded on paper
  • Initial and final assessment of aphid counts on treatment plants, recorded on paper
  • Paper records stored in ‘Aphids 2016’ binder, currently at Chicago Botanic Garden
  • Aphid counts also included in p1 measuring data


  • 2016 paper by Katherine Muller and Stuart on aphids and foliar herbivory damage on Echinacea
  • 2015 paper by Ruth Shaw and Stuart on fitness and demographic consequences of aphid loads
  • 2015 poster by Daniel Brown and Kyle Silverhus (Lake Forest College) on achene and seed set differences on treatment plants

You can read more about the aphid addition and exclusion experiment, as well as links to prior flog entries mentioning the experiment, on the background page for this experiment.

2016 Update: Echinacea hybrids–exPt 6

Echinacea Pallida at Hegg Lake

Echinacea Pallida at Hegg Lake

Although originally used as part of Josh Drizin’s experiment with exotic grasses, this plot also has hybrids of Echinacea angustifolia and Echinacea pallida. Gretel and Nicholas Goldsmith performed reciprocal crosses between 5 non-native pallida plants found at Hegg Lake and 31 angustifolia plants in P1 and planted 66 seedlings between grasses in 2012. These plants have been revisited each summer since then. This year, on August 3rd, Laura Leventhal and I found 36 of the original 66 plants – a sharp decline from the 55 found last year. This means that 55% of the original cohort is still alive, with the survival rate this winter of 65%. Of the surviving plants, only three had more than one rosette.

Year started: Crossing in 2011, planting in 2012

Location: Experimental Plot 6, on Tower Road

Overlaps with: Echinacea hybrids — ex Pt 7, Echinacea hybrids — ex Pt 9

Data collected: Status, rosette count, longest leaf measurement, and number of leaves for each plant. Exported to CGData.

Products: Nicholas Goldsmith’s summary of the crossing done in 2011 can be found here.

You can find more information about experimental plot 6 and previous flog posts about it on the background page for the experiment.

2016 Update: Echinacea Hybrids — exPt 7

To the trained eye, Echinacea pallida is easily distinguished from E. angustifolia by its white pollen, large heads, and long, droopy ray florets.

Echinacea pallida observed at Hegg Lake.

This summer, we remeasured plants in experimental plot 7 at Hegg Lake. These plants are hybrids of Echinacea angustifolia (native) and Echinacea pallida (non-native, but planted at a nearby restoration). Shona Sanford-Long performed these crosses in 2012, Jill Pastick germinated the seeds that winter, and Stuart planted the seedlings the following spring. It is not yet known how the introduction of this non-native species will affect local Echinacea angustifolia populations. The survival rates and reproductive fitness of these plants can tell us how well the hybrids can compete with the native species. We have returned to the plot each of the last three years and measured the plants found there.

198 of the original 294 planted seedlings (67.3%) were found this year. The table below shows the fate of each cross-type in 2016 — the first name in the cross type is the maternal species, and the second name is the paternal species (e.g., ‘ang_pal’ is angustifolia mother and pallida father). These plants were measured on August 3rd and rechecked on September 2nd. No plants flowered this year, meaning that we must wait longer to assess seed set and reproductive fitness.

Cross Type

Found16 ang_ang ang_pal pal_ang pal_pal

no      34      10      20      32

yes      37      21      65      75


Start year: Crossing in 2012, Planting in 2013

Location: Hegg Lake Wildlife Management Area – Experimental Plot 7

Overlaps with: Echinacea hybrids: ex Pt 6; Echinacea hybrids: ex Pt 9

Data collected: Rosette number, length of all leaves, herbivory for each plant collected electronically and exported to CGData. Recheck information for plants not found was also collected electronically and stored in CGData.

Products: Taylor Harris’s 2015 poster demonstrating fitness benefits of pallida parenthood.

You can find more information and links to previous flog entries involving experimental plot 7 on the background page for the experiment.