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A Feature: Mad Aphids

Did you know that Echinacea angustifolia has a unique specialist aphid called Aphis echinaceae? These aphids are tiny green insects that suck carbohydrates out of the stems and leaves of echinacea. If you are lucky, you can spot them congregating on the underside of leaves, stem, or under the heads of echinacea plants. Pay more attention and you will see busy ants running up and down the plants. We have observed that ants farm and tend to these aphids in order to consume their sugary secretions. Ants and aphids maintain a symbiotic relationship. However, the range of effects that aphid habitation has on echinacea is uncertain.

Recently, I’ve noticed many echinacea plants with Aphis echinaceae at a field site with sandy soil. I wondered if aphids are more present on those particular echinacea plants because sandy soil might be more favorable for ants. I hypothesize that aphid presence on E. angustifolia increases when E. angustifolia grows in favorable conditions for ants. Could echinacea plants in sandy soil provide aphids closer access to be farmed by ants? Many intreiguting questions on the interactions between echinacea, aphids and ants have yet to been uncovered. Stay tuned for our aphid exclusion project this summer, investigating the effects of aphids on echinacea. 

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