carbon in the prairie

There are many reasons we don’t want to lose prairie remnants to woody encroachment or conversion to agriculture. One of them is because we don’t want the Carbon in the soil to go to the atmosphere. Here’s a nice visual derived from IPCC data, 2022.

Compare temperate grasslands to temperate forests and croplands. How does a buckthorn thicket compare to any of these?

pollen and nectar = food for thought

Many plants, including Echinacea angustifolia, flower vigorously during the summer after a prescribed burn. We’ve demonstrated that the benefits of fire for seed production, in many circumstances, are bigger than just the increase in flowering. The additional boost to seed production results from better pollination after fires compared to other times. Now we are trying to figure out what’s going on with pollination–why is it better after a fire? It might be related to pollen or nectar, which are foods for the bees that pollinate Echinacea. Here are two possibilities: 1) after a fire, plants produce more or better pollen or nectar which draws in bees from farther away, so the plants get more visits and better pollination, presumably the bees are happier with abundant & healthy food. 2) after a fire, plants produce less or lower quality pollen or nectar which means bees need to fly to more plants to get a decent meal, so the plants get more visits, and the bees are probably frustrated with skimpier meals and bad food. The third possibility is that plants produce the same quality and quantity of pollen & nectar regardless of fires.

Over the summer we systematically collected pollen and nectar from many Echinacea plants in many populations (19) over many days. Our goal is to evaluate how fires affects the quality and quantity of pollen & nectar produced by Echinacea plants. We are getting close to wrapping up data-entry for our field collection of pollen and nectar from Echinacea angustifolia. Here’s a summary of data-entry progress so far…

[1] "11 sites of data entered twice & verified"

[1] "138 pages of data entered twice & verified"

     site tagCt pageCt 
1      aa     6     11 
2  cg-p01     5     14 
3    eelr     5     13 
4   hulze     6     17 
5   hulzw     5     13 
6  hutche     5     13 
7  hutchw     5      9 
8      kj     6     11 
9   koons     5      9 
10    p02     5     13 
11 p08-tp     5     15 

Each “tagCt” is the number of Echinacea plants we sampled at each site. We will keep you posted!

Funding for this project was provided by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources
Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources

Habitat fragmentation decouples fire-stimulated flowering from plant reproductive fitness

This page has information about the Echinacea Project paper that was published in PNAS on 18 Sept 2023.

Updated 2 October 2023.

A flowering head of the narrow-leaved purple coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia). Credit: Jared Beck
A prescribed burn of a prairie restoration. Credit: Stuart Wagenius.

Weather for burning

Reliable forecasts and accurate assessments of current conditions are critical for conducting prescribed burns. We are fortunate to have many weather resources. Here are the sources I use for planning and conducting prescribed burns.

2021 Update: Cirsium hillii fire & fitness

We are still monitoring the fate of the lone patch of Hill’s thistle at Hegg Lake WMA. It is the only patch in our study area, as far as we know. On 8 September 2021, Jared & Stuart used a stake file to find corners of the plot that was shot in 2014. We flagged the corners and did not see any flowering rosettes within. We shot coordinates for five basal rosettes. Two rosettes were outside of the plot near the SW corner. We scanned nearby and saw no more rosettes outside the plot. One Asclepias viridiflora plant was flagged within the plot. I regret I took no photos.

  • Start year: 2014
  • Location: Hegg Lake WMA
  • Data collected:
    • GPS coordinates ~Dropbox\geospatialDataBackup2021\convertedTXT2021\CIRSIUM_20210908_DARW.txt
    • notes. see file 2021-09-08notesCirsiumHillii.pdf
  • Samples or specimens collected: none
  • Products: none

You can find more information about our experiment on how fire affects the fitness of Cirsium hillii on previous flog posts regarding this experiment and on the background page for this experiment.

wrap up internship with LFC students

Alondra, Connor, Maeve, and Marina finished their mini-internships with us. It was a great experience for them and us. We appreciate their contributions to science and conservation and they gained valuable experience. As part of their plant biology class, Alondra, Connor, Maeve, and Marina, who are juniors and seniors at Lake Forest College, worked on two projects to assess effects of prescribed fires on reproduction in Echinacea. In the lab, they gained hands-on experience in seed biology over three Wednesday afternoons, including cleaning, scanning, counting, developing hypotheses, and data management. To test their hypotheses, they developed a dataset and summarized their results. In class they presented posters and they are attached here. It was a wonderful mini-internship–thanks to Alondra, Connor, Maeve, and Marina, as well as Prof. Westley!

insects today

Here are photos of insects I observed on Echinacea heads today.

The style-eating beetle was in or under a bagged head at SGC.

Happy Juneteenth

Team Echinacea is off to a great start. We had a wonderful first week. We got a lot done and laid the foundation to work well as a team to accomplish much more this summer. This summer we aim to learn bunches and make many contributions to science and conservation.

Look at our new shirts…

Emma wasn’t in this shot, she getting ready for the state track meet. Best wishes from Team E to Emma & AAHS track and field team at the state meet today!!!

Happy Juneteenth to all!

None of us is free until we’re all free.

updated COVID-19 preparedness plan

Here’s the third version of our COVID-19 preparedness plan. So far, so good.

COVID-19 preparedness plan

We want to be a safe. Here’s the COVID-19 preparedness plan that we developed for summer fieldwork. It’s a work in progress, but we intend for this plan will guide our first week. At the end of the week we will discuss how it works, how it doesn’t, and make modifications for the following week.