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Prairie Fires and Echinacea Reproduction

I’ve been helping out around the lab since the fall, but this is my first post on the Flog, so I’ll go ahead and introduce myself. I’m Gordon, and I’m a senior at Northwestern University studying Environmental Science and Chemistry. I have the awesome opportunity to conduct an independent study here at The Echinacea Project—not only will I learn research techniques and scientific writing skills, but I’m also able to get class credit for my research, allowing me to devote more time to the project.

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Me with one of the many heads I’ve dissected

The main focus of my research is how fires affect the reproductive success of Echinacea. The existing scientific literature suggests that fires (or a lack thereof) redistribute resource availability, giving a survival advantage to certain species of plants. For example, a fire can burn tall prairie grasses to the ground, allowing shorter plants to access sunlight and contributing to their survival. In areas where prairie fires are suppressed, which includes many locations where prairie remnants exist today, it is thought that plants that benefit from fires will become scarcer. However, there is scant scientific literature regarding how fires influence the reproductive success of prairie plants.

 

At Staffanson Prairie Preserve, prescribed burns are conducted every five years, providing an ideal setting in which to conduct this observational study. I will be examining at plants that flowered both in 2015 (a non-burn year) and in a previous burn year. By comparing their reproductive success in both the burn year and non-burn year, I hope to gain an understanding of what influence fires may have on Echinacea reproduction. The measures I will use to study reproductive success will include: achene count, which indicates resource availability and reproductive effort; style persistence, which measures the pollen availability and limitation; seed set, which measures the success rate of seed production; and fecundity, which serves as an indication of total reproductive success.

 

Stay tuned for weekly updates about my procedure and progress over the next several months!

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