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Summer fieldwork begins in Minnesota

The summer field season is off to a great start! We have assembled an excellent team to investigate ecology and evolution in fragmented prairie habitat focusing on the narrow-leaved purple coneflower as a model organism. Meet members of the team.

Team Echinacea 2015: Danny, Matt, Ben, Will,

Team Echinacea 2015: Danny, Matt, Ben, Will, Gina, Taylor, Lea, Amy, Katherine, Alison, Abby

We started the season with tours of local prairies large and small, including Staffanson Prairie Preserve, Hegg Lake WMA, which are large and protected. Stay tuned for team-members’ first impressions of some of the nearby remnant Echinacea populations.

Team-members hail from near & far: Barrett, Elbow Lake, and Alexandria, Minnesota & California, Alabama, New York, and Rhode Island. They are excited to develop summer projects and they will post their proposals here next week. Our team includes four college students, four who just graduated college, two high school teachers, and one high school student. And there are the old-timers.

To get ready for field work, we took the Hjelm House out of winter storage and cleaned out our storage facilities (g3). We inventoried supplies and made signs and tags for fieldwork. Everyone got a pouch with tools and supplies and Gretel has assigned us all a data collector. This may be (should be) the last year for our trusty handspring visor data collectors. The visors are trustworthy, but the computers and software that run them are showing their age.

The first main activity of the season was assessing survival and growth of 2526 plants in the Q2 experiment, which is designed to quantify the additive genetic variation in two Echinacea populations. The amount of additive genetic variation determines a population’s capacity for adaptation by natural selection. Genetic variation is very important for the persistence of populations in prairie habitat. We’ll find out how much variation Echinacea has, which will give us some ideas about future prospects for these populations in the rough-and-tumble and rapidly changing world out here.

We got rained out several times this week, but managed to measure all 2526 plants. We found a few plants that escaped detection last summer and we even found one seedling. Welcome to the experiment, fellas! We’ve got our eyes on you.

Overwinter survival appears to be quite good and most of the toothpicks we used to identify individual plants made it through the winter too. The tallest plants were just over 20 cm and some plants had 3 or more leaves. This is great news for plants that were sown as seed in fall 2013. Growth conditions are challenging: a cold winter with little snow, a dry spring, shading out by established plants, chewing by herbivores, … it’s a tough life for a prairie plant.

All in all, it promises to be a great summer. We’ll keep you posted.

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