Slipping and sliding into Independence Day

I think it is pretty safe to say that 2020 has not been the best year. During these relatively unfortunate times, it is important that we go out of our way to create positive experiences for ourselves and those around us. Of course, members of Team Echinacea are lucky to get to do field work every week day, and we also are blessed to be able to work with each other. However, when July 4th presented itself as an opportunity to have some fun with the team, no one was going to pass that up. Thus, we had a “first-time” experience with Team Echinacea yesterday… a July 4th slip ‘n slide!

Generally speaking, the team goes to a lake on the 4th and cooks out with the Wagenius family. Due to the current global situation, we decided to stay away from the general public. Stuart was a great host for the team on his home turf. He supplied us with root beer floats, snack packs, and popsicles while we read the Declaration of Independence. Thereafter, we discussed how the Declaration is holding up in current nationwide affairs. It was a very healthy discussion, and I think we will consider the words in the Declaration when we discuss fostering diversity with Team Echinacea in the future.

After our discussion, we transitioned to the great slip ‘n slide! It was a ton of fun! Drake donated his hoop-house plastic to slide down, and the Wageniuses supplied us with well water, hoses, sprinklers, and dish soap. It was a ton of fun! There were a variety of methods folks used to get down the slide, and it seemed like a constant struggle to find the optimal method. If anyone is looking for a video of themself going down the slide, please feel free to contact me for it!

Once the slide was over after a couple of hours, folks went home. Late in the night, though, the Andes people came over to the Hoffman House for a quick bonfire. It was a lot of fun, and really capped off the day with some great bonding!

People setting up the slip ‘n slide! It took a while to figure out how best set it up!
It eventually looked like this (very good)!


Hello Echination! It’s me again, Riley. I’m finally returning to regular summer flogs, and I am beyond excited to be doing so. As regular flog subscribers may know, I spent the winter with Team Echinacea at the Chicago Botanic Garden, and I have been looking forward to adventures in west-central Minnesota for a while now. I like to think my return to the prairie was as epic as Kurt Angle’s TNA debut.

Nonetheless, we had a productive team day today. This morning, Anna M, Mia, and I went out to hybrid exPt7 and exPt9 and flagged the plots for future measuring. It went very smoothly relative to previous years! Additionally, we found a flowering plant in experimental plot 7! We expect it is either an Echinacea pallida plant or a hybrid. I think it may be in the same plant that flowered in 2018 in exPt7. Other team members weeded in exPt1 this morning, and Erin worked on preparing Darwin to stake and shoot plants in the remnants. Finally, Amy W and Emma went to remnants to take demography records on plants that have initiated flowering.

We had a fun lunch and headed over to West Central Area High School for an afternoon of meetings. First, we talked about team norms and expectations over Zoom. We started by trying to all Zoom from the same room, but that was a disaster. We decided to split into separate rooms, and the meeting went well thereafter. Finally, we talked as a group (this time, in-person) about COVID-19 expectations and preparedness. Once again, our meeting went well, and we have clearer ground rules to mitigate COVID transmission opportunities.

Well, flog readers, thanks for having me! I’ll talk to ya soon!!! Peace out Echination.

First rays up of the year in the study area!! (except we think it’s pallida. rat.)

Riley Thoen

Echinacea Project 2020

Biology Honors, Gustavus Adolphus College ’19

Research Interests

Anthropogenic habitat fragmentation has contributed to severe biodiversity loss worldwide and is expected to have lasting negative impacts on remnant communities in the coming years. One great consequence of fragmentation is the loss of genetic diversity and adaptive potential within individual remnant populations. Many studies have demonstrated the loss of neutral genetic diversity within remnant plant populations and linked this phenomenon to reduced population fitness. However, few studies have been designed to understand how remnant plant populations with varying sizes and degrees of isolation are differentially affected by climate change and how neutral and quantitative genetic variation may predict population persistence in a changing environment. Thus, it is my goal to understand the additive effects of habitat fragmentation and climate change for the persistence of remnant plant populations.


I grew up in Bloomington, MN, and went to college in Saint Peter, MN, where I learned to appreciate the biodiversity of the Midwest. I really enjoy being outdoors with no people around, and I am really looking forward to getting out of the big city (Chicago) and into the field in West Central MN again. Some of my other hobbies include: playing board games, playing video games, engaging in scientific discussions, participating in sports, reading (when I feel like it), and watching shows produced by the Bachelor franchise. My summer with Team Echinacea will be slightly truncated because I am starting a Ph.D. at the University of Georgia in August, but I am really looking forward to participating in field work and meeting folks this summer!

In the past, team members have observed Echinacea heads while sitting on buckets. I hope to revolutionize fieldwork this summer by teaching folks to observe buckets while sitting on Echinacea heads.

Preparing Team Echinacea for a safe summer 2020

Hello Echination! It sure has been a long time since I last flogged, and I really have missed giving fun updates to folks both in the lab and online. Over the past few months, members of Team Echinacea have been stuck at home due to the ongoing global pandemic. We have spent a lot of time working on existing projects, preparing for data collection in the field, and meeting with colleagues over Zoom. However, due to the current situation, there is one project that has taken precedence over all others: our Covid-19 preparedness plan.

Although we have been shut out of the Chicago Botanic Garden for some time, we are fortunate to have been granted permission to conduct field work in Minnesota. Each field season is incredibly important for Team Echinacea, as this is when we collect a large amount of data and harvest specimens to be processed in the lab. Because Echinacea angustifolia is a long-lived plant, it is imperative we conduct field work in MN as much as possible, so we can gather accurate estimates of lifetime fitness in our self-incompatible perennial forb and assess whether remnant populations will persist in West Central MN. That said, there is something even more important than conducting long-term ecological research: the health and safety of humans.

Over the last few weeks, the Echinacea lab core members have assembled a dream team of past, present, and future team members to construct a plan to prioritize safety during the field season while still allowing for the efficient collection of high-quality demographic and fitness data on Echinacea angustifolia. The Covid-preparedness team consists of: Stuart, Ruth, Erin, Riley, Amy D., Amy W., Drake, Lea, Mia Stevens, Jared Beck, and John “Texas” VanKempen. What a team! The first thing we did to prepare for a socially-distant field season was to read interesting articles about Covid transmission, best business practices for Covid, and government recommendations; we then shared these articles with the group. Next, we discussed what we learned from these articles and then broke into small groups to discuss minimizing transmission probability during every-day tasks. For example, I was on teams that discussed how to reduce potential Covid transmission while eating lunch, syncing visors, and engaging in team building activities. From there, we reconvened as a group and shared our optimal plans for each activity. To solidify our ideas, we put all of our ideas into a “Covid-19 Preparedness Plan” – a template created by the State of Minnesota for reopening businesses. We hope to share a draft with all summer 2020 team members soon, and we will certainly document our plan on the flog in the coming weeks!

We learned a lot during this process, and we are looking forward to getting back out into the field with our ever-friendly study species. Many feelings are invoked by the thought of field season, including excitement, stress, adventure, nostalgia, and most importantly, the feeling of community. Obviously, being a part of a community is personally gratifying, but this summer, it is imperative that we come together as a community to keep each other healthy and safe. I can personally say I am incredibly excited to spend part of my summer with Team Echinacea, but I can also say I am nervous about being on a field team in light of the ongoing global situation. However, I know that if I look out for others and if they look out for me, Team Echinacea will be healthy, efficient, and as fun as ever.

Due to the global pandemic, we warned Echinacea that they may actually benefit from isolation in summer 2020. Many responded by purchasing masks from their local party supply store.

2019 Update: Heritability of fitness – qGen2 and qGen3

Team Echinacea established quantitative genetics experiments to determine the additive genetic variance of fitness in Echinacea, with the idea that we can estimate evolutionary potential of study populations. Quantitative genetics experiments 2 and 3 (qGen2 and qGen3) represent the third generation of Echinacea in our common garden experiments. The grandparents of qGen2 and qGen3 are the 1996 and 1997 gardens. Plants from these experiments were crossed to generate qGen1 (a.k.a. Big Batch), and plants in qGen1 were crossed to produce seed for qGen2 and qGen3, which now inhabit exPt8.

We visit exPt8 every year to assess fitness of Echinacea in the plot. Originally, 12,813 seeds were sown in the common garden. Seeds from the same maternal and paternal plant were sown in meter-long segments between nails. A total of 3253 seedlings were originally found, but only 669 plants were found alive in 2019.

Jay, John, and Avery assess fitness of young Echinacea in exPt8. They’re so tiny (the Echinacea, that is… Jay, John, and Avery are regular sized).

In an exciting turn of events, we found a flowering plant in qGen2 this year! This was the first flowering plant found in exPt8. Fortunately for our one flowering plant, it had four flowering friends to cross with from the Transplant Plot. We took phenology data on the qGen2 head, measured it, and harvested it.

The presence of a flowering plant influenced Riley Thoen to make a new measuring form for exPt8 in 2020. In the past, the exPt8 measuring form was very different from other measuring forms. Through 2019, we measured all leaves of basal plants in exPt8; we only measure the longest basal leaf in other plots. Riley designed the 2020 exPt8 measuring form to mirror the measuring forms from other common gardens. In the future, the exPt8 measure form will have a head subform and team members will only have to measure the longest basal leaf of each plant found.

Start Year: 1996 and 1997 (Grand-dams), 2003 (qGen1 – dams), 2013 and 2015 (qGen2 and qGen3, respectively)

Location: exPt8

Overlaps with: qGen1, 1996 and 1997 gardens, heritability of flowering time, common garden experiment, flowering phenology in experimental plots

Data/material collected: phenology data on the flowering plant and transplant plot plants (available in the exPt1 phenology data frames in the cgData repo), measure data (cgData repo), and harvested heads (data available in hh.2019 in the echinaceaLab package; heads in ACE protocol at CBG).

2019 Update: Inbreeding experiment – Inb2

The inbreeding 2 experiment was planted in exPt1 in 2006 to determine how genetic drift is differentially affecting average fitness of remnant populations. In 2005, team members crossed common garden plants from seven remnant populations. There are three cross types: inbred (crossed to a half-sib; I), within population (randomly chosen; W), and between population (B). Each year, team members assess flowering phenology and fitness of Echinacea in the inb2 common garden.

In 2019, the team searched for Echinacea at 508 positions of the original 1443 positions planted in inb2. In total, we found 351 living plants. Four plants flowered in 2019 but only three produced achenes. Since 2006, 163 Echinacea in inb2 have flowered; they have produced a total of 336 flowering heads.

This winter, Riley Thoen is working on analyzing data and drafting a manuscript for inb2. In these endeavors, he found a small discrepancy in inb2 data: not all plants that were planted in the inb2 plot have a complete pedigree. Therefore, only a subset of the total can be used for analysis. A total of 1136 plants with a complete pedigree were planted in inb2, and of those, 277 were found alive in 2019. All four plants that flowered in 2019 have known pedigrees. A total of 138 plants of known pedigree have flowered and they have produced 284 total heads since the plot was planted in 2006. Surprisingly, within-remnant crosses have the lowest survival of all cross types, at 20%. Inbred crosses have 24% survival and between-remnant crosses have 30% survival. Riley is starting to push data analysis forwards and will certainly post updates on the flog when more discoveries are made!

Summary of survival in inb2 by parental site.

For more summary plots, click these links:

Start Year: 2005 (crosses) and 2006 (planting)

Location: exPt1

Overlaps with: inb1, 1996 and 1997, common garden experiment, flowering phenology in experimental plots

Data/material collected: flowering phenology on the flowering plants (available in the exPt1 phenology data frames in the cgData repo), measure data (cgData repo), and harvested heads (data available in hh.2019 in the echinaceaLab package; heads in ACE protocol at CBG).


Shaw, R. G., S. Wagenius and C. J. Geyer. 2015. The susceptibility of Echinacea angustifolia to a specialist aphid: eco-evolutionary perspective on genotypic variation and demographic consequences. Journal of Ecology 103: 809-818. PDF

Kittelson, P., S. Wagenius, R. Nielsen, S. Qazi, M. Howe, G. Kiefer, and R. G. Shaw. 2015. Leaf functional traits, herbivory, and genetic diversity in Echinacea: Implications for fragmented populations. Ecology 96: 1877–1886. PDF

2019 Update: Echinacea Ploidy

To see how ploidy varies in Echinacea species in our study site, in fall 2019, wecollected and dried tissue from E. pallida, E. angustifolia, and E. purpurea. We also collected tissue from potential hybrids and known hybrids. We brought the dried tissue back to the Chicago Botanic Garden, where we plan to analyze ploidy using a flow cytometer, a device that can be used to find relative genome size.

The flow cytometer used to assess relative genome size. Although it just looks like a box, it is truly a powerful machine.
Example of dried Echinacea tissue… We thought it might be a hybrid when we visited it in the field!

Unfortunately, preparing samples for the flow cytometer is difficult, so we are going to first optimize our Echinacea tissue preparation protocol using live tissue. To do this, we withdrew accessions of E. angustifolia, E. pallida, and E. purpurea from Millennium Seed Bank at the CBG. For E. pallida, we took seed from collections throughout its range to see if its ploidy varies with latitude. We are currently germinating this live tissue to use for ploidy analysis with Elif. We are very excited to see what we find – any finding will help expand genomic knowledge for the genus Echinacea!

Start year: 2019

Location: Hegg Lake WMA, various prairie remnants and restorations, hybrid experimental plots

Overlaps with: Echinacea hybrids (exPt6, exPt7, exPt9), Echinacea pallida flowering phenology

Data/ materials collected: Dried tissue from plants throughout the study area; samples are currently held at Chicago Botanic Garden, in a small box in the glass cupboard to the right upon entering room 159, the Population Biology Lab. Updates will be posted when genome data is available.

Background: If you’d like to learn more about this experiment, check out the background flog post!

2019 update: Amy Dykstra’s local adaptation experiment

This experiment was designed to study how well adapted Echinacea populations are to their local environments. Amy collected achenes from Echinacea populations in western South Dakota, central South Dakota, and Minnesota, and then sowed seeds from all three sources into experimental plots near each collection site. You can read more about the experiment and see a map of the seed source sites on the background page for this experiment.

This summer, during our annual census of the experimental plots, we found 67 living Echinacea plants in the western South Dakota plot, including 9 flowering plants. We found 116 living plants, including one flowering plant in the Minnesota plot. This was the first flowering plant in the Minnesota plot! (We abandoned the central SD plot after it was inadvertently sprayed in 2009, killing all the Echinacea). For more details and graphs, please read this brief report.

First flowering plant in the MN local adaptation plot!

Start year: 2008

Location: Grand River National Grassland (Western South Dakota), Samuel H. Ordway Prairie (Central South Dakota), Staffanson Prairie Preserve (West Central Minnesota), and Hegg Lake WMA (West Central Minnesota).

Overlaps with: Dykstra’s interpopulation crosses

Data/ materials collected: Plant fitness measurements (plant status, number of rosettes, number of leaves, and length of longest leaf), heads from all flowering plants

Products: Dykstra, A. B. 2013. Seedling recruitment in fragmented populations of Echinacea angustifolia. Ph.D. Dissertation. University of Minnesota. PDF

2019 Update: Common Garden Experiment

Since 1996, members of Team Echinacea have walked, crawled, and ~sometimes~ run next to rows of Echinacea angustifolia planted in common garden experiments. Although protocol varies depending on the common garden, every year team members record flowering phenology data, measuring data, and harvest the heads of the thousands of plants we have in common garden experiments. The Echinacea Project currently has 10 established experimental plots: exPts1-10. Due to the repetitiveness of yearly phenology, measuring, and harvesting, this project status report will include updates on all common garden experiments except for Amy Dykstra’s plot (exPt3), qgen2qgen3 (exPt8), and the West Central Area common garden (exPt10).

exPt1: Experimental plot 1 was first planted in 1996 (cleverly termed the 1996 cohort), and has been planted numerous times in subsequent years, with the most recent planting being inbreeding 2. It is the largest of the experimental plots, with over 10,000 planted positions; experiments in the plot include testing fitness differences between remnants (1996, 1997, 1999) effects of inbreeding (inb1, inb2), and quantitative genetics experiments (qgen1). There are also a number of smaller experiments in it, including fitness of Hesperostipa spartea, aphid addition/exclusion, and pollen addition/exclusion. In 2019, we visited 4392 of the original 10,622 planted and found 3486 alive. Only 70 plants were classified as “flowering” in exPt1 this year. This is a drastic change from the nearly 1000 plants that flowered in summer 2018 – perhaps it is a testament to the benefits of controlled burning (we burned in spring 2018 but not in 2019). In summer 2019, we harvested 52 total Echinacea heads in exPt1. In the fall, we added 789 staples to positions where plants were gone for three straight years – this was desperately needed because no staples were added to positions with dead plants after 2018.

exPt2: Heritability of flowering time is the name of the game in exPt2. Planted in 2006, exPt2 was planted to assess if flowering start date and duration was heritable in Echinacea. In summer 2019, we visited 2050 positions of the 3961 positions originally planted. We measured 1802 living plants, of which 654 were flowering. In the fall, we harvested ~1100 heads from exPt2. We do not have an exact number of heads harvested from exPt2 yet, as we have not had time to complete head reconciliation. Location: Hegg Lake WMA

Stuart explains Echinacea capitulum morphology to Shea in one of the experimental plots.

exPt4: Experimental plot 4 was planted to determine if Echinacea from small remnant populations could be genetically rescued via an outcross to larger, more genetically diverse populations. Caroline Ridley and other members of Team Echinacea sowed 3584 achenes at Hegg Lake WMA in 2008, and we have assessed survival and basal plant characters every year since. Survival in exPt4 is incredibly low. We only visited 21 plants in 2019 and only 7 were alive. No plants have flowered in this plot yet. Location: Hegg Lake WMA

exPt5: The only experimental plot planted at Staffanson Prairie Preserve (SPP), exPt5, was planted in an attempt to compare progeny of maternal plants from burned and unburned sections of SPP. There were 2800 plants planted originally, but high mortality made it impossible to visit the plot row-by-row. Now, we and treat the plot like demography. We use a GPS to find plants in exPt5 that have previously flowered and add more plants to the stake file if new plants in the plot flower. In 2019, we visited 10 plants in the plot, all of which were alive! There were no plants flowering in exPt5 in 2019, though. Location: Staffanson Prairie Preserve

exPt6: Experimental plot 6 was the first E. angustifolia x E. pallida hybrid plot planted by Team Echinacea. A total of 66 Echinacea hybrids were originally planted; all have E. angustifolia dams and E. pallida sires. In 2019, we visited 40 positions and found 28 living plants. No plants have flowered in this plot yet. As of January 2020, all exPt6 measure data through summer 2019 is uploaded to the SQL database. Location: near exPt8

exPt7: Planted in 2013, experimental plot 7 was the second E. pallida x E. angustifolia plot. It contains conspecific crosses of each species as well as reciprocal hybrids. There were 294 plants planted. Out of the 205 plants we visited in 2019, we found 161 plants still alive and basal; there were no flowering plants this year. For some context, survival of pure E. angustifolia crosses was lower than all other cross types. As of January 2020, all exPt7 measure data through summer 2019 is uploaded to the SQL database. Location: Hegg Lake WMA

exPt9: Experimental plot 9 is another hybrid plot, but unlike the other two hybrid plots, we do not have a perfect pedigree of the plants. That is because E. angustifolia and E. pallida maternal plants used to generate seedlings for exPt9 were open-pollinated. We need to do paternity analysis to find the true hybrid nature of these crosses (assuming there are any hybrids). There were originally 745 seedlings planted in exPt9, and in 2019 we visited 510 positions. It was one of the harder plots to measure because over half of the positions did not have a plant and we do not use staples at Hegg Lake WMA. We found 308 living plants in 2019, one of which was flowering! We know the flowering plant has an E. pallida mother, but we are still unsure of the paternity of the flowering plant. When we know, we will post an update. As of January 2020, all exPt9 measure data through summer 2019 is uploaded to the SQL database. Location: Hegg Lake WMA

Summer 2019 measures exPt9… so many “Can’t Finds!”

For more information on survival in common garden experiments, see this flog post about survival in common gardens.

Start year: Various, see individual listings above. First ever planting was 1996.

Location: Various, see above

Overlaps with: Pretty much everything we do

Data/ materials collected: Measure data for all plots. All raw measure data available in cgData repository. Processed data should eventually be available in SQL database; ask GK for status of SQL database. GPS points were shot for the exPt9 flowering plant, as well as for all surviving plants in exPt4. Find the GPS jobs containing the exPt4 and exPt9 points in ~Dropbox\geospatialDataBackup2019, saved in three formats in temporaryDarwBackups2019, convertedXML2019 and convertedASVandCSV2019. The job name is SURV_20191002_DARW and the points have names that distinguish them by the experimental plot. The stake file to find exPt5 plants is here: ~Dropbox\geospatialDataBackup2019\stakeFiles2019\exPtFiles\exPt05stakeFile.csv

Products: Many publications and independent projects.

2019 Update: West Central Area Environmental Learning Center

In the fall of 2018, the Echinacea Project scientists came to West Central Area Schools (WCA) and mapped out twelve plots to transplant E. angustifolia into the following summer. The WCA Environmental Learning Center has 35 acres of restored prairie, making it a perfect place to plant experimental plot 10. During the summer of 2019, Team Echinacea planted over 1400 E. angustifolia seedlings into the 12 subplots. Three plantings were performed: the first was a planting organized by Michael and had offspring from exPt1, the second consisted of plants from Amy W’s gene flow experiment, and the third planting had offspring from the Big Event. All plants originate from Grant or Douglas County, MN. To test how different fire regimes affect fitness in Echinacea, folks from West Central Area will apply a fall burn treatment to four plots, a spring burn treatment to four other plots, and the remaining four plots will not be burned. 

The team after planting the original cohort of Echinacea in experimental plot 10. It was a long day!

During science classes with John VanKempen, WCA high school students will assess the effects of differential burning regimes on the fitness of E. angustifolia. For the first time this fall, juniors in VanKempen’s classes used data they collected on plants to answer their own scientific inquiries. Students developed hypotheses, then measured various morphological traits on surviving Echinacea in the 12 plots. The students used the data they collected to create graphs based on their data. VanKempen plans to continually integrate these Echinacea experimental plots into his classroom lessons and hopes other teachers at WCA will utilize the experimental plots for student science projects.

Start year: 2018

Location: West Central Area High School’s Environmental Learning Center, Barrett, MN.

Overlaps with: Pollinators and Echinacea male fitness, Gene flow in remnants

Data collected: Planting and survival data for seedlings planted in summer 2019. GPS points taken for plots. Planting data is available in the Echinacea Project ~Dropbox/CGData/195_plant/. Contact John VanKempen for survival data taken by his students. GPS points are available here: ~Dropbox\geospatialDataBackup2019\planting2019\nailStakeWCA.csv

Products: High School Posters. Contact John VanKempen for info.