Dust Project Update: UMN Edition

This semester at school (University of Minnesota Twin Cities), I have been continuing the Dust Project I was working on over the summer. From the work this summer, I had collected 64 heads of Echinacea angustifolia that were then brought down to the Twin Cities for me to continue working on. Just recently, I finished cleaning them (many lovely mornings were spent on the St. Paul Campus, I was lucky enough to have a window in front of the counter I was working at). While it felt a little weird to see the flowers after hiking through a blizzard, it was exciting to see a little bit of the results from this summer’s hard work. There was one head that decided to split down the middle, I found that intriguing. It made me wonder whether something was living in it at one point, or if something else caused it to divide! Currently the heads are being mailed down to CBG to get x-rayed, then I will start the process of counting the full achenes to see if the dust made a difference in its reproductive success.

You can view past updates about Dust HERE.

Wednesday Shenanigans

The team split up for an adventurous and successful Wednesday morning. Some went to go do total demo at landfill (finishing the last big site!), while others did demo at various other sites. I also was working on my dust traps throughout the day, part of my independent project where I am measuring the amount of dust traveling off of unpaved roads. If you are interested in learning more about my dust, go check out my project update! After I finished placing my dust traps, I finished up some demo and phen at a few prairie remnants and headed back for lunch.

The afternoon proved to be an eventful one! The entire team headed out to P2 to get trained in on harvesting. I don’t have photo evidence (sorry guys), but even Jared made it into the experimental plot, an event rarer than a double rainbow! While in the plot, Stuart taught the team the 4 ways to know if an Echinacea head is ready to harvest, then sent us on our way to start harvesting in the experimental plot. The task seemed to be easy enough at first, but proved difficult as we moved along. The culprit of our problems: the 13 lined ground squirrels who call P2 home. Many of the plants had their roots eaten, which we discovered when the peduncle (stem) of the Echinacea was no longer attached to the ground. If the plant was lucky enough to have its roots still intact, it may have had its head eaten off. Daytona and I tried to scare them away when we saw them eating our plants, but the safety of our plants was likely short-lived. The ground squirrels were feeling especially brave, one even jumped on my leg! The excitement of harvesting and the ground squirrels made for a quick afternoon, and soon enough we had to head back and finish up for the day. I collected my dust traps and everyone split up to enjoy their evening!

Finding (or Not Finding) Aphids – Aphid Addition/Exclusion Update 2022

Since 2011, Team Echinacea has been studying how the presence (or absence) of the specialist herbivore Aphis echinaceae has an impact on Echinacea fitness. This summer, Kennedy and I (Emma) have been tasked with running the project. Originally, 100 heads were included in the study. This summer, only 41 plants are still present, with 17 addition plants and 24 exclusion plants. At the beginning of the summer, Kennedy and I searched to see if we could find any aphids, regardless of whether the plants were a part of the addition or exclusion treatment. We found exactly none, the same as last year. After consulting with Stuart about the conundrum, we decided to introduce a new population of Aphid echinaeceae into ExPt1, where the project is located. Multiple times a week, Kennedy and I went into prairie remnants, carefully gathered the aphids, then brought them back and placed them onto the living addition plants. Below is a graph of the aphid population growth on these 17 plants, with the red line being the average.

Most of the plants have now received between 70 and 80 Aphid echinaeceae since the 20th of July, with most plants having at least a few living each time we visit the plant. On one plant we even found an ant! Overall, it will still take some work to establish a new population, but we seem to be off to a good start.

Staying Dusty – Team Dust 2022 Update

Over the course of this summer, the dust project has continued! Team Dust is now on its second year of studying the effects of dust deposition on Echinacea angustifolia’s seed set, through both an experimental study (to determine if dust deposition affects seed set) and an observational study (to determine the amount of dust traveling off of unpaved roads). Now that we are over half way done with the field season, below is a brief update of what has been done so far this summer, and what is still yet to come.

Experimental Study

This summer we have 64 Echinacea heads included in the experimental study, located at the prairie remnant Nice Island. Of these 64 heads, half of them were randomly selected to receive dust treatments while the other half receive no dust. Twice a week I venture out to these heads to give the “dusty” heads their dust while the others receive none. All of these heads are located at a site where little to no dust comes in naturally. Once these heads are ready to be harvested, they will be run under an x-ray to determine their seed set. Currently we have the x-rays from last year’s heads, but not all of them have been analyzed so there is no data to report as of now.

Observational Study

The observational part of this project is about to begin! This past week, Kennedy and I assembled the dust traps (pictured below) that we are going to use to measure dust levels at varying distances from unpaved roads. We then placed these traps at two different remnants (pictured below). Over the course of the next two weeks, these dust traps will be loaded in order to collect data. The second part of the observational study, new to Team Dust as of 2022, is collecting styles from flowering Echinacea heads alongside unpaved roads. Kennedy and I managed to collect some styles on Thursday, which went well! Currently these styles are sitting in the freezer, but they will soon be analyzed under a microscope to look for dust covering them.

Overall, lots has already been done this summer, but there is still plenty left to do!

POV: An Echinacea during demo and surv

As I watch the sun rise, I wonder what type of day it will be. Will I have ants crawling on me, or will I have a shield bug perched upon my head? As the sun grows higher, I see a group of large animals walking on two feet, carrying lots of brightly colored items. I watch as they come closer to me and my other plant friends. They start marking all the other plants that look like me, I wonder what they are doing. I even get a blue flappy thing of my own. They finally leave, but soon after these big creatures return. They take their time looking at each of us, recording strange data and replacing the flappy thing for another colored one. I wonder what is going on. Finally they get to me, I am the only one left with a blue flag, the others all have a neon. First the creature bends down and places something around the base of my head. I feel pretty, like I was accessorized. Then I feel them dig around near my roots and they find something sharp and metallic. It was placed there years ago and had grown into the dirt around me as time had passed. They dig it out and look closely at it, talking to the other creatures as they examine. Then they start to prod at me, feeling my rosettes and counting my heads. It feels weird, why am I getting all of this special attention? And what do they want from me? Will I be okay? Finally, they stand up, but I see the creature reach around their back to grab something. I fear the worst as they bend down with a sharp pin, but they don’t hit me. Instead, they replace my blue flag with a neon one like the rest had received, and walk away.

I start to relax, thinking it is all over. The creatures had gotten what they had come for. Unfortunately, they didn’t seem to be done. A group of two of them started working their way through all of us who were marked, along with a tall stick they seemed to keep looking at. I worry what they are doing. I think that it may be the end. When the group arrives at me, I can feel the stick being placed next to me, nearly on top of me. I fret that I will be squished. One of the creatures bends down, again looking at the foreign metal object which seemed to be assigned to me. The two creatures talk for a moment, then my flag gets replaced again, this time I get a white one. I can’t relax, not when they seem to be coming back so often. But as the sun dips below the horizon, I think that the normal hush of the prairie may have finally returned, and I can again grow to my hearts content.

ALF and NWLF Observations

Daytona and Emma visited Around Landfill (ALF) and Northwest of Landfill (NWLF) today. Each site was visited for around 15 minutes and was observed from the side of the road.

ALF did not look burned and contained a lot of shrubs and brome. We also noticed the warm grass big blue stem, as well as the forb dandelion and the legume veiny pea. This concluded all 4 plant communities within this site. We discussed how the shape of the land, namely the hill and the ditch, were both naturally occurring and man-made. Among the site we saw trees, some fences (one of which was electric), and a few cars passed us, which we made sure to wave to! We managed to spot some echinacea as well as the veiny pea at this site, which was exciting.

NWLF did looked burned. We agreed upon this because of the lack of previous years’ growth and the lack of brome in the area. We found lots of plants in each of the 4 plant communities, some being brome, silver leaf pea, big blue stem, and dandelion. At this site we saw echinacea plants, but did not find any veiny peas.

Emma Reineke

Echinacea Project 2022

Biochemistry Major, University of Minnesota Twin Cities Class of 2025

Research Interests

I am interested in studying all sorts of science, especially biology! I like to see how things work together to create a larger network which is able to accomplish amazing things. Being outside and walking through the fields, I love seeing how much is going on between all of the living and nonliving parts of the prairie.


I am originally from Alexandria, MN, about 20 minutes from most of the field sites. This will be my second year as a part of Team Echinacea and I am thrilled to be coming back! In my spare time I enjoy being active, I am a part of the Gopher Nordic Ski Team at my college and love racing as a part of the team. I also am a distance runner. In my down time, I enjoy reading, being on the lakes (in my opinion, the best part of living in Alex!), baking/cooking, and playing music.

Totally Total Demo

This morning the whole team (which consisted of six of us) went out to the Riley’s for total demo. Even with getting out there a little bit late, we finished in good time. With the little bit of time we had before lunch, the crew split up to quickly harvest Echinacea heads in the experimental plots. Wesley and I harvested at P7 and P9 as well as the one Echinacea plant in Amy D’s plot (Amy your head is harvested!).

Lunch consisted of lots of acorns, which some of us got in head by. Jared collected more acorns and ended up designing a mini experiment with them. He left 30 acorns lined up on the picnic table, tomorrow we will see how many have been taken by the creatures living at Hjelm.

After lunch and the acorn experiment, Kennedy, Allie, and I headed out for more total demo. While it was hotter in the afternoon, the wind kept the heat at bay. Unfortunately the wind also decided to take my maps and blow them across the site we were working at. Throughout the afternoon the three of us finished total demo at Aanenson, West of Aanenson, and Tower. Including what we did at East Riley this morning, the three of us completed 343 locations today!

The Flog with a Frog

Today proved to be a day filled with various tasks and adventures. The team (minus Maris and Miyauna since they are leaving at the end of the week) went out to Riley to learn how to determine if an Echinacea head is ready to be harvested. We learned the four indicators and how to play the “Harvest Now” game, similar to rock paper scissors.

Next the team split up, a crew went out to do phenology while I was with Wesley, Allie, and Kennedy to do total demo at Yellow Orchid Hill. Allie and I braved the west side and managed not to fall into the Grand Canyon, although we did have some moments where we thought we were going to fall. The biggest surprise while being out there was the temperature, both of us were cold! After last week it was much appreciated, until we both realized we didn’t have our sweatshirts and jackets with.

The number of people at lunch has fallen significantly since our first day in June, yet that doesn’t stop us from having great conversations over strange topics! Once we were full from our food (and some of us ready for a nap), the crew went out to P1 to continue measuring. Today Kennedy and I were partners, a sure sign for something fun to happen! Almost right away we find a big frog in our row, Maris came over to take a picture and she believes it was a Leopard Frog. Throughout our measuring adventure Kennedy and I found lots more critters, a spider neither of us liked, some strange exoskeletons, and a caterpillar we both loved which was sitting on a milkweed.

Part of our job when measuring the plot is to find staples in the ground where past plants were in order to stay on track. Kennedy and I were having quite the time with these staples, some rows we were struggling to find them while in other rows we would blindly reach into the grass and find them on the first try. At one position Kennedy and I each found a staple, meaning there were somehow two staples at one position. It was a good day to be working in P1, the sky was cloudy (allowing us to find plants easier) and the weather was cool.

The newest addition the Hjelm this week is Mia’s game for measuring P1. Every section we complete in the plot is one square we get to fill in on the road, all while a printed out picture of a gopher chases us. It feels good at the end of the day to be able to see how much progress we made!

Once chores were finished the team went out to the Andes house for a team dinner, Kennedy and I were both very excited for dinner after googling the dishes while we were measuring this afternoon. The first food served to us was chicken and vegetable samosas, which were absolutely delicious. Team Echinacea has now gotten very efficient at handing out plates and forks, passing each dish in a circle until each person is served. The second dish to come onto the deck and onto our plates was rice and curry, which was again delicious, even if it was a little spicy for me! The meal finished with some amazing mango lassi and a wonderful conversation discussing funny memories of science classes. It was a wonderful day ending with amazing food, thank you Andes House for hosting us tonight!

An orchestra, a road grader, and a debate about faces (a typical Monday)

Today we started the week off strong by pulling birdsfoot trefoil along Tower Road since it was wet from the rain last night. Reports differ based upon location, but Team Echinacea members were able to deduce that last night there was lightning, thunder, rain, and hail in west central Minnesota. Once we pulled everything we could find, the team split up for phenology. Wesley, Kennedy, Allie, and I were assigned the NorthWest loop, aka landfill and surrounding sites. Allie took the GPS to shoot newly found plants at the smaller sites while the rest of us went to landfill. My favorite part about this morning was that, unlike last Monday, the hill did not smell! Once we finished at landfill, Wesley, Kennedy, and I met up with Allie to finish the remaining sites. Notable stories include Wesley meeting some biting ants and all three of us looking amazing in our blaze orange vests. After phenology we had some extra time before lunch so I was in a group helping John sort flags in g3, the flag bin is looking better every day!

After a quick (yet delicious) lunch the crew headed out to measure P2. We grabbed our visors, flags, candy canes, and measuring sticks and tapes. Once we got to the field we ran the measuring tape down the field and got to work. Allie and I were partners and managed not to fall into any holes while working, but unfortunately I learned the lesson that if I yell at the visor when it doesn’t work, it will not listen to me. Once I talked to it nicely, it seemed to work fine. As we worked down the field, we would move the measuring tape with us. This involved everyone ducking while three or four people would lift it. It made life more interesting when none of us were allowed to stand up for ten seconds! While packing up supplies, Laura and Maris perched on their rock and managed to produce music from a piece of grass, allowing us to relax after a hot afternoon.

To add to the excitement of the day, today the P2 crew got to see the road grader drive by and make the road look nice for us. Please enjoy the above picture of the view of the road!

In order to minimize the amount of cars parking on the side of roads and driving, we filled two cars with people. This meant that one person would be riding in the middle of the backseat of Mia’s car. This also meant that Mia would get to look at this person’s face every time she looked in the rearview mirror. On the way out this person was Wesley, meaning it was not a rearview mirror, but instead, as Wesley liked to call it, a “Wesley-view mirror.” On the way back I ended up in the middle seat, and Mia made it clear as to whose face she liked to look at more (mine), and who had the best face in the backseat (me). The rest of the car ride consisted of talking about food and rocking out to Taylor Swift, as well as admiring the view of Minnesota’s fields. We finished out our day by doing our chores and waving goodbye to everyone!