Liatris Classification Protocol

Below is the classification protocol for Liatris X-rays

Final Externship Reflection and Presentation – Cassie

As the three weeks of my externship at the Echinacea Project comes to a close, I’ve learned a lot about the research process and the different stages of a scientific investigation. After coming up with my main research question about density and seed predation in Liatris a couple of weeks ago, I have since been working on cleaning and randomizing Liatris, as well as quantifying seed predation in order to analyze the relationships I wanted to investigate.

After going through all the steps of getting my data ready for analysis, I got to do some data visualization and statistical tests to fully analyze the results of my project. This was done in R, where I make several graphs and ran statistical tests such as t-tests and generalized linear models.

After getting to analyze my data, I put together a presentation summarizing some of my findings and my thoughts about them. To summarize, my main research question was investigating whether the fire-induced density of flowering Liatris plants influenced seed predation, and I hypothesized that burning would lead to higher density, which would lead to higher seed predation. I found that burning did in fact lead to a higher density of Liatris plants, but there was not a significant relationship between nearest neighbor distances and seed predation, with only a very slight negative relationship between the two. There was a steeper relationship between the two in just burned plots versus unburned plots, which I thought was interesting, although I am unsure about why this is the case.

Overall, I found that the reproductive benefits of fire do not seem to be outweighed by the threats posed by seed predation, which is good news for those that want to use fire as a tool for prairie management and conservation. My entire presentation, with background information and the graphs I used, can be found below!

Overall, this experience has been very insightful into the world of scientific research, as well as all of the methodologies and tools necessary to successfully complete a project and gather meaningful data. I’ve learned first-hand the importance of things such as random, unbiased samples, having a thorough, detailed protocol, and having organized workflows and data collection methods. I have also had the opportunity to meet and talk to people pursuing ecological research and learn about that process, which has been super helpful. I think that one of my biggest takeaways from this externship is that you don’t have to have all of the answers and that there are always more questions to investigate.

Externship Week 2 Update: Randomizing

This week we’ve been making good progress on gathering the necessary data for our projects! An important part of this, especially for mine and Wanying’s projects, has been outlining our randomization protocol for liatris. After brainstorming a liatris randomization protocol yesterday to ensure we would be getting unbiased samples for our data, today we finalized some of the details of our protocol and started randomizing!

We spent the majority of the day creating random samples of liatris achenes to use for our projects, and we were able to get 60 samples done. It was exciting to put a protocol that we had drafted into practice, and continue working towards our data sets and the final product of our projects. The variation of achenes from each plant was also very apparent during the randomization process. Here’s Wanying, Caitlin, and Wyatt working on randomized liatris samples:

We finished off the day with some echinacea achene counting, which will be important for Caitlin’s data analysis. It’s fun to get a variety of different tasks throughout the day while contributing to different projects. I’m looking forward to more randomizing tomorrow and doing more work on our projects!

Day 4 Externship Update: Scanning, Burning, and Projects

As the first week of our externship is coming to a close, we’re learning more about the different procedures and tools used in the lab. After finishing up our rechecking and organizing of the 2020 harvest yesterday, we began scanning today so that we can eventually move on to the next step and count achenes. While we scanned, we also took turns continuing the daunting task of rechecking the cleaned 2021 harvest. Here’s Wanying and Caitlin working on rechecking while I scanned:

As fun as scanning and rechecking is, the most exciting part of my day was easily getting to watch a prescribed burn on some of the restored prairie. While the fire was pretty slow and patchy for the most part, it picked up speed during the tall grass sections and was pretty cool to watch overall. Getting to actually see a prescribed burn in practice after learning about it and its effects in the lab was really interesting. It was also a pretty valuable experience in that we got to watch and learn about how prescribed burns are done and the different tasks and precautions that go into the process.

After watching the burn and doing some more rechecking and scanning, we had a meeting with the lab team to brainstorm for the independent projects we’ll be working on for the last two weeks of our externship. We talked about different possible project ideas and questions we could investigate, but struggled some with the feasibility of accomplishing our goals in just two short weeks. However, after some more brainstorming and reevaluating, we were able to come up with some exciting ecological questions to investigate in the lab for the next couple of weeks!

Overall, this week has brought lots of new knowledge about the lab processes and the various projects they contribute to, as well as some great background and context for thinking about goals and ideas for the rest of the externship!

Cassie Cunniff

Echinacea Project 2021

I am an Environmental Studies major at Carleton College, class of 2023.

Research Interests

I am interested in studying prairie conservation, as well patch ecology and the effects of fragmentation. I am also very interested in environmental interpretation/education and environmental justice.


I am from Mount Prospect, IL. In my spare time I like to hike, backpack, go thrifting, and read. I also play softball, and am on the varsity team at Carleton. I also really enjoy visiting National Parks (Glacier is my favorite).