over and out

Hi Team,
I am safely installed back at home. The unpacking and laundry is done, and Costa Rica prep is in full swing. To those of you still in the field, I wish you steady hands on the surveying poles and expeditious dispatching of the demo maps. And to everybody, I wish happiness and good luck in life. It’s been fun.
Take care, Amy

Rachel’s Species Survey List

Download file

This is a link to a sample survey sheet that is used for my research. It includes a list of some of the most common plants found in the prairie fragments.


Heat, Humidity, and Harry Potter

After a brief retreat, during which I completed the seventh installment of Harry Potter, I’m returning to the world of field work, flogging and fun. [The book, by the way, was excellent, and I’m excited and willing to discuss it with anyone who has also read it, or who wishes the ending to be spoiled. Also, I want to give props to my younger sister, who predicted the ending with remarkable accuracy.]

This week we’ve been battling some classic Minnesota summer weather. The whole week has been extremely hot, and exceptionally muggy. To the consternation of some and relief of others, we switched our working hours to be an hour earlier so as to avoid some of the afternoon heat. Driving into work one day, we heard the MPR weathercaster announce that there were going to be “sauna-like conditions” and recommended that people stay inside and avoid strenuous activity. The hardy members of Team Echinacea persevered undaunted however, and we made good progress in the monitoring of the Common Garden and at Jennifer’s plots at Hegg Lake. We welcomed back team members Rachel and Amy Mueller, and also received a visit from Ruth Shaw, who was valuable addition during this hot week, and who also came to Kensington bearing delicious lemon poppy seed cake.

Initial Bee Data

We have gotten the chance to look briefly at some of the bee data that we gathered this summer. The first numbers that we have to report are the average flight distances that bees are making between plants. Average flight distance between different plants of Echinacea is 3.73 M. When we added the data for the flights between different heads on the same plant (these intraplant flights were all considered to be 0 M long) the average flight distance was shortened to 3.27 M.

In the next couple of days, we will potentially do the following with our data:
-construct a histogram to visually represent the distance distribution of flights
-print out the homerange maps for each bee, and determine their size, overlap with other homeranges, etc
-compare the maps of flight tracks to the phenology data to see if we can find patterns in which inflorescences bees are visiting and which they are choosing to ignore
-try to determine the percentage of flights that are not successfully transmitting pollen between compatible plants

Updates from the Bee Team

The frequency of bee sightings has slowed down in the past couple of days, but in the mean time we have been typing up our updated protocols, and begun looking at the data that we’ve collected. Read on for detailed protocols, the musings of this year’s Bee Team, and tips for next year’s Bee Team.

Bee Tracking

After we had painted a sufficiently large number of bees, we transitioned to tracking their flight paths between Echinacea heads. Our goal with this project was to obtain data that would allow us to determine average flight path distance of the pollinators between heads and therefore get a better idea of gene flow within the garden, and also to see if we could estimate the home range size for individual bees.
Our protocol for tracking bees didn’t undergo too many changes from the initial version. The biggest challenge that we ran into was keeping up with the bees both visually and in terms of taking data. We updated the visor form several times to increase the efficiency of the data taker. The current form seems to work well, although we’ve considered the idea of taking data on paper. It would also streamline data processing if the visor/paper form could assign and group each flight series by an ID number.
We found that it was most effective to work in groups of at least three, and up to five. One person would be data taking on the visor, and the others would be visually following the bee. It was best for the trackers to stay back a couple of meters from the bee so as not to scare it, and for the trackers to be spread in a circle around the bee, so that it could be tracked in any direction. When the bee left the flower, the trackers would call to the data taker that the bee had left the head, so that they could prepare a new data point in the visor, and would then call out the new plant coordinates and twist-tie color. If the bee visited multiple heads on one plant, the second, third, etc. twist-tie colors were recorded in the notes instead of calling up a new form every time. If the bee was lost for more than ten seconds, we marked lost track, and then would resume with a new flight ID for the next bee, even if it was the same bee that we had previously been tracking.
Because we got all the details of this protocol worked out after the peak flowering, there weren’t many bees still in the garden when we were searching for them. As a result, we tended to concentrate our searching for bees in the ’96 garden where the flowering plant density was the highest. This made the most efficient use of our time, since we weren’t randomly walking rows with few or no flowering plants, but resulted in a data set that is concentrated in one place. Therefore, our data, especially when it comes to home range estimates, may be inaccurate, as we concentrated our time in the one area.

Miscellaneous Info

We the members of the Bee Team (formerly Team Binocular) have done our best to track, mark, and record the position of bees in the common garden for the last several weeks. Our first suggestion is that you start early. This year we got a late start compared to the Echinacea flowering. We also had to figure out all the protocol from scratch as well so in the future this project can get organized shortly before flowering starts to be ready when flowering starts. Pollen set and bee activity are closely related and are both tied to weather.

After trial and error, we found that the best time for finding bees in the common garden was right around 7:30. Agapostemon virescens tended to be out earlier in the morning while the Melissodes were out later. We hoped that by getting out early we would be able to find A. virescens to track, but because of the late start of our project, we were unable to find any. Cold weather and windy weather both diminished the number of bees visiting flower heads. Wind also made it difficult to track bees because when the bees took off from the flower head they were caught by the wind and blown away.

Updates and Corrections

The Bee team has been busy (I’m avoiding including a bad pun here) lately. We have implemented and perfected our tracking protocol in the past couple of mornings, and have gotten some good data looking at the flights between flowering heads in the Common Garden. Yesterday morning we successfully tracked the flight of one bee to 57 consecutive heads! For the most part, we have been faithful to the original protocol, although we have found that working in groups larger than two is more successful.

We discovered yesterday that the bee we have been identifying as Halictus rubicundus is actually neither that genus nor species. Stuart brought up a reference collection from the U of M, and our best guess is now that our bee is Melissodes cf. subillata.

Bee Team Strikes Back

This morning, due to a revolutionary development in our marking protocol, the Bee team members caught and marked 6 Halictus rubicundus in a relatively short amount of time. The secret to our success was capturing the bees and cooling them before any painting was attempted, instead of trying to mark them while they worked the Echinacea heads. Tomorrow we will spend a good portion of the morning marking bees in the common garden, and then hopefully be able to train the rest of the crew in, so that we can begin taking data in earnest later in the week. Read on for new and revised protocols…


Bee Painting Protocol
Needed Equipment:
-lunch box coolers, each with an ice pack and several glass vials
-paint applicator and bandolier
-insect net
-visor, with random number list and bee07 form

1. Walk rows as prescibed by the random number list with a partner, scanning 4rows across for bees on Echinacea heads
2. Catch any bees with the insect net (being careful of flower heads!) and transfer the bees to a chilled vial
3. Keep bees in cooler until sufficiently chilly and slow (approx 3-5 min)
4. Transfer bee from the vial to a flat working surface (plastic bag on top of the ice pack works well) and paint a small dot of the appropriate color on to the middle of the thorax
5. Allow the bee to warm up, and release it in the same vicinity in which it was caught
6. Record all necessary data (including bees species, paint color, plant coordinates etc) in the visor

Tracking Protocol
Needed Equipment:
-color key pallet
-visor, with random number list and bee07 form

We haven’t yet tested this protocol, and there will probably be some revision/elaboration before it gets implemented. But this is the current plan:

1. Working in pairs, walk random rows, searching the 4 adjacent rows for bees.
2. When a bee is located, track it for as many consecutive flights as possible (we anticipate that one person should be visually tracking the bee, while the other partner records data in the visor, and assists with tracking when not data taking)

Amy Alstad, part deux

Let me reintroduce myself. In rare forgetful moment, I left my self logged into the team computer at the farm house, and a prankster who shall not be named shared with the readers of this blog a couple of facts about my life. All of these facts, with the possible exception of the title of the entry are true. I’m a biology major at Carleton, and will be spending the fall semester studying rain forest ecology in Costa Rica. I like being outside in any and all capacities, love ornithology, and enjoy making and consuming delicious food.


virgin prairie makes me hot

Hi i’m Amy Alstad. I’m 5′ 113/4″. The saddest part of life is that i’m not 6′ tall. I’m from MN and i’m going to be a junior at Carleton college

Pollinator Protocol

Tomorrow marks the official kick-off day for the Bee Team. We plan to mark several species of generalist bees found in the common garden with paint spots on the thorax. Our painted bees will hopefully provide data that will answer questions about their population size in the common garden, home ranges of individual bees, and flight path distances between echinacea heads. Before we begin marking our bees tomorrow, we need to:
-find and/or make nails with rounded ends with which to paint the bees (nails are the recommended tool, according to Ian’s online research, as they transfer thin, even circles) and
-make a pendragon form for the visors with which to collect data (this form should include date, time, bee species, paint color, plant on which the bee was originally observed, and a place for notes)

Equipment needed:
paint bandoliers
nails/other paint applicators
list of random numbers

Tomorrow’s protocol:
1. Generate a list of random number 10-56. Distribute evenly divided lists of these numbers to the 2 groups of 2 people participating. Walk the rows of the common garden in the perscribed order with one person on each side of the row, scanning the row for Agapostemon virescens
2. When a bee is sighted, paint a circle circle on its thorax. After painting radio/yell to the other group and relay the color used, so as to avoid doubling up on colors.
3. Record data for each painted bee into the pendragon form on the visor

Depending on the success of our painting efforts in the morning, we will maybe begin to collect data for home range and population size estimates.