KAP: KAP has not gone so well this summer. We went out to Staffenson last week, in an attempt to at least get a pretty picture to show for our troubles. The idea was also to get before/after photos of the liatris (liatrises? liatri?) blooming. We set up a 10m x 10m square near the boundary between East and West. Alas, due to unstable winds and our failure to bring more than one memory card, we weren’t able to take too many pics. And, of those we did take, we only had one (ONE!) with three groundmarkers included and none (NONE!) with all four groundmarkers.

Today we went out again and, despite promising wind predictions, failed to get the camera up.

Team Bee: Amy is analyzing data

Team Video: Due to an encouraging article on BBC about time travel, Colin has decided to wait for this invention rather than watch the 1000 hours right now. He plans on sending back his future self to do the grunt work. Thus, when all video is reviewed, we will know that time travel has been perfected.

Team FA: Leaves and heads, done.

Demography: Going well. Gaining in speed and efficiency. However, many, many sites are left to do. Getting nervous about the end of the summer coming so soon.

Common Garden: FINISHED! Well, just harvesting left.

Hegg Lake
: Rechecks c. 1/3 done

Rachel’s Sites: Almost done!

jardín de mi madre

My mom, who is quite the gardener, sent me some pictures of Echinacea she’s had growing in our garden for the past couple of years (I haven’t been home during the summer since I graduated high school, so I’ve never actually seen it). She has a purple variety of ambiguous species identity as well as a yellow and an orange variety developed in the local nursery.

Echinacea garden 002.jpg

Purple variety, head status: indented

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Yellow variety

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Best Moment of the Summer

We were enjoying a delicious supper of curried chick peas and green beans in the RAJ mahal, relaxing in spite of the raucous shrieking of a gaggle of pre-adolescents in our usually peaceful backyard (e.g. the alpine glory that is Andes Ski Hill). We heard the tweens erupt into rapturous cheering and looked out the window in time to see Ian emerge over the crest of the mountain on his bike, reminiscent of Gandalf, back lit by the morning sun, boldly perched atop Shadowfax. After bombing down the black diamond, Ian cruised back to the mando with a hoard of teenyboppers hot in pursuit. In the throes ecstasy, celebrating their newfound hero, the aggregation of blond children called out eager questions to this mysterious stranger: ‘Where are you from?’ ‘What’s your name?’ and yes, even, ‘can I have your autograph?’

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Orchid Hunting

On July 9th Team Echinacea temporarily became Team Platanthera. That is to say, we journeyed c. 170 miles northwest of our usual study area, around Kensington, to the Nature Conservancy’s Pembina Trail Preserve near Fertile, MN. Here we searched for Platanthera praeclara, the elusive Western Prairie Fringed Orchid. The WPF orchid is a midwestern prairie wildflower that has been listed as federally threatened since 1989. For more information about the WPF, where it persists, and why it is threatened, check out this link .

Gretel has been surveying the population at Pembria for the past several years to track changes over time and to better understand the effect of management techniques such as burning and mowing. Though prone to wide population fluctuations, this year we found an exceptionally low number of orchids – 151 between the two plots (108 and 43).

As usual, the day did not close without Team Echinacea/Platanthera hijinks. While wading in a drainage ditch, Jameson picked up a leech between his toes which Ian subsequently, and stalwartly, removed. We also stopped for pizza on the way home. Not to toot my own horn, but my recommendation (jalapeño and pineapple), though widely scoffed at initially, went over quite well with those who partook.

Finally, I leave you with these few pearls:
When the emotions are strong one should paint bamboo; in a light mood one should paint the orchid. – Chueh Yin

Inspired teachers … cannot be ordered by the gross from the factory. They must be discovered one by one, and brought home from the woods and swamps like orchids. They must be placed in a conservatory, not in a carpenter shop; and they must be honored and trusted. – John Jay Chapman

“When two friends understand each other totally, the words are soft and strong like an orchid’s perfume��? – anon

“A human being isn’t an orchid, he must draw something from the soil he grows in��? – Sara Jeannette Duncan

Ants in my pants (and by in my pants, I mean on my mind)

In general, the two main differences between ’99 South and the main common garden (for damage assessment and herbivory) appears to be less damage in ’99 South and more ants (and less ant diversity).

When doing phenology in the ’99 common garden about a week ago I noticed that the plants in the eastern-most row (those along the very edge) appeared to be more likely to have ants and (very anecdotally) seemed to have a different amount of florivery damage and browning than the rest of the garden (it’s been too long owing to my laxness in flogging and I can’t remember if it was less or more, though I am inclined to say less). Whether there actually is a difference in damage and whether this difference results from ants, edge effects, or chance remains to be seen.

A few days ago when I was doing phenology in the ’99 South common garden I noted that the majority of plants in the garden had ants and that there was low variability in ant species composition – virtually all I saw where the large black ones with red heads. These ants were very aggressing and would leap off the flower head onto my stylus as I was pointing at the anthers to count them. I could practically hear them sharpening their mandibles. The northern-most row (those along the very edge) had few ants and the ants were of different species, including small black ones and light-colored ones. Interestingly, there was much more damage in this row.

Are these large ants actively defending their flower heads and increasing plant fitness?

Do other species of ants contribute less to the echinacea in terms of defense? Do they take more away in terms of pollen and nectar? It is not uncommon to see ants covered/dusted in pollen (I never observed this of the large black species) and I have twice seen a small black ant actively carrying pollen in its mandibles.

Profile: Rachel Mills

Rachel is a 3rd year master’s student at the University of Minnesota in Ruth Shaw’s lab. Her research is focused on the rapid evolution of invasive plant species in prairie fragments. She received her bachelors degree at the Central Washington University, and did post-bac work in the Australian rainforest with the School for Field Studies. She is a native of Washington state.

On the side Rachel enjoys breakdancing, hip-hop dancing, and gripping/gaffing on movie/television sets.

Weather Forecast

Here are some key resources:

Kensington general forecast and 48-hour surface wind forecast (from NWS in Minneapolis).

Hoffman general forecast and 48-hour surface wind forecast (from NWS in Grand Forks).

Current conditions at nearby weather stations.

Profile: Julie Nicol

My name is Julie Nicol. I graduated from Carleton College (Northfield, MN) with a degree in biology in 2007. I am from Seattle, WA and hope to move back at some point. In the meantime I’m here working on the Echinacea project. I really enjoy the area; it’s quite beautiful. In the fall I’ll be heading to Chicago to work for Stuart at the Chicago Botanic Garden until next spring. Eventually I will (most likely) go to grad school, but I intend to spend the next few years figuring out exactly what I want to study.

On a more personal note, I enjoy being outside (hiking, kayaking, diving, windsurfing, etc.), reading (one of my favorite books is The Master and Margarita), and music (I have wide-ranging tastes from joy division to dar williams). I am also interested in and concerned with social justice and environmental issues.

KAP: Kite Aerial Photography

Julie of the RAJ Mahal here. This is my first blog entry, ever. But I am excited to spend Saturday night flogging.

I’m also very excited to be involved in the KAP project this summer. As Stuart has noted, “aerial photography from
kites is one of the oldest forms of remote sensing of the earth’s surface.”

Stuart constructed the rig:
Brooxes Basic KAP Kit purchased from

We attached the camera, a Canon Powershot S70, and sent it up on a test run on our Flow Form 16 x 4ft, which is suitable for winds of 8-25 mph, but (as we found) becomes increasingly difficult past 15mph.

Our other kite is a G-Kites Dopero, good for 5-12mph winds. It’s a bit smaller (6ft by 10ft).

Everything went fairly smoothly until we returned and were frustratingly foiled by technology. We shot the images in RAW format (necessary for the fine scale images we hope to produce) which are supposed to be accompanied by a JPEG thumbnail. Turns out we don’t have the software to open and work with these RAW files and we couldn’t find the JPEG files anywhere! We have a couple promising leads on programs to manipulate the RAW files – hopefully Josh, our resident techie (would you prefer tech guru? I just don’t like to encourage technology. We don’t mix, technology and I), will help us overcome this obstacle.

So, as of yet, we don’t *really* know how our test run went. The lens had retracted back into the body of the camera both times we sent it up, but based on the number of files we uploaded, it does not appear that it stopped shooting images. Don’t know what’s up with that. I find it a little troublesome. I don’t like when gadgets do mysterious things that defy control.

Important notes:
*Wear gloves
*Stay away from trees
*Electrical tape is great for affixing the LED over the camera’s remote sensor – it’s opaque, which is good because the system doesn’t work as well in direct sunlight. And it’s easy to remove and re-attach.
*Make sure to use the fuzzy tail – increases stability
*Pin the rig on as close to the kite body as feasible/practical (not *too* close)
*When bringing down the kite, hold the wheel vertical as you roll in the line. If you hold it horizontally, the line twists as you roll is, which is bad for storage
*When bringing the kite down, it works for one person (in gloves!) to pull the line down, hand over hand. The other person should stand behind with the wheel to roll in the line. Try to keep up so that the line doesn’t get dirty (which, as climbers know, severely shortens the lifespan of a rope)
*A second person is necessary for assisting in bringing the kite/rig down, especially in high winds
*A second (and ideally third) person is necessary for determining exactly where the rig is flying. It’s hard to tell where it is (what it is taking pictures of) without people on either side (say, 50m away) for rough triangulation.
*Holding the kite can be tiresome, especially in high winds. Don’t be shy about taking turns.

Build a kite-flying contraption. I am imagining something with handles like a rolling pin (so that you can roll and unroll smoothly, without twisting the line) and some sort of a clamp to hold the line in place once the kite has reached cruising altitude. I don’t think it should be something that affixes to the ground because you need to be able to walk around (in an attempt to coax the kite into a transect). I don’t fish – how do fishing poles work? I presume they have some sort of locking mechanism – perhaps something we could mimic on a larger/cruder scale?

Here are some links (from Stuart):
lots of info and links to good Q&As and safety stuff
great resource
looks good
looks good
good links here!


looks good
old discussion


Abers at Emporia State U


comprehensive, but old
info on rigs