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Join the Echi-nation!

Team Echinacea seeks undergrads, graduate students, recent grads, high schoolers and teachers to join our summer team! Come hone your skills as an ecologist, conservationist, and evolutionary biologist while engaging in research in western Minnesota’s tallgrass prairies. There will be watermelon!

Check out our employment opportunities and read about what it’s like to work with Team Echinacea!

Members of Team Echinacea summer 2023 team enjoy a snack on the porch after a day of field work

We strive to create an inclusive, collaborative, stimulating, positive, fun, and productive environment for all regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, and economic background. We welcome and encourage individuals from groups historically excluded from sciences and conservation. If you are interested in learning about and contributing to science and conservation, please join our team. We are committed to recruiting, training, and supporting individuals interested in science, education, and conservation from diverse backgrounds.

PB&Js to fuel Team Echinacea during summer field work?

Team Echinacea has a lot of ongoing projects. A lot! Some of them have been running for decades, and some are relatively new. Each project has a unique set of needs in terms of preparation, fieldwork, and post field management. We want to be efficient as each project progresses through the field season and we also want new team members to be able to pick up on the workflows.

PB&Js might be just the thing to answer all our FAQs…

Here are some FAQs on an abstract ggplot PB&J.

This week, Stuart, Wyatt and I are experimenting with the PBJ format (project blueprint and journey). We hope to make easily digestible roadmaps for every project we have going on. These will keep our field season running smoothly (or not, if you like crunchy peanut butter… We have not discussed this yet). This also makes me wonder, what kind of jelly (or jam?!) is best for our PB&Js? I like Bonne Maman fig preserves. I will pitch that to Stuart and Wyatt.

Is Minnesota getting shorter?

as asserted in Munroe (2023)?

This is going to be the main agenda item for team Echinacea meeting until the snow melts.

  • Is Minnesota getting
    • thinner?
    • narrower?
    • skinnier?
    • shorter?
  • Will we need to gps every single Echinacea plant again?
    • do we need to do demo too?
    • Maybe instead of annually, we can re-map each plant once per decade
  • Do Echinacea plants feel the squeeze?
    • Does the squishiness make Echinacea happy?
  • Are ground-nesting bee nests getting deeper?
  • Why don’t we have any snow?

What’s New in Demap?

It feels like forever ago that our summer team of plant demographers were taking demo and surv records on thousands of flowering and non-flowering Echinacea plants in the field! But for me, demo and surv work is still front and center, and it gets more exciting every day!

A few weeks ago, I cleaned up the 2023 data that Stuart and Jared kindly loaded into demap. Now, it is time to reconcile entries within years and between years. There is a lot going on in the demap repository where this happens, but luckily, former members of Team Echinacea wrote great protocols and annotated their scripts thoroughly.

On Friday I wrote my first ever “ICE” record (informed census evaluation) for an entry at Kjs. There will be many more to come as I solve little mysteries from data collection. Hopefully soon we will have successfully incorporated 2023 demographic data into our long-term database. Stay tuned!

A very official certification of my first ICE record.

remEa 2023 making its way through ACE!

Most of the hundreds (or thousands!) of Echinacea heads we harvest every year are from our common garden experimental plots. But not all of them! We also harvest heads from local prairie remnants to learn about isolated natural Echinacea populations of different sizes. This year, we harvested 125 heads from the remnants, and they’ve begun their journey through our ACE process at CBG!

Next step next time?

The remnant heads are almost all through the first batch in our process, cleaning. By the end of the ACE process, we’ll be able to quantify multiple components of fitness, such as achene count and seed set, for each individual. But for now, one thing at a time!

We’re hiring for summer 2024!

The Echinacea Project is assembling an enthusiastic team of undergraduates, recent graduates, graduate students, high schoolers and teachers to engage in prairie research during the summer of 2024! Are you an aspiring ecologist, conservation biologist, or evolutionary biologist? Spend time in western Minnesota’s prairies and gain research experience in plant population biology, evolution and quantitative genetics, pollination biology, and plant-insect interactions!

Check out our employment opportunities and read about what it’s like to work with Team Echinacea!

Members of Team Echinacea 2023 measure Echinacea plants in an experimental plot

We strive to create an inclusive, collaborative, stimulating, positive, fun, and productive environment for all regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, and economic background. We welcome and encourage individuals from groups historically excluded from sciences and conservation. If you are interested in learning about and contributing to science and conservation, please join our team. We are committed to recruiting, training, and supporting individuals interested in science, education, and conservation from diverse backgrounds.

Morris Area Schools Science Expo

This week, Abby and I designed a poster, packed our bags, and headed to Minnesota to attend a science expo at Morris Area High School. The event was organized by Britney House (Team Echinacea RET 2022) and provided students of all grade levels an opportunity to explore different career paths and opportunities in science. There were folks with fancy robots and all the newest engineering tech in attendance, but we weren’t the only environmental sciencey group there; we were happy to see the MN DNR, USDA NRCS, and others in attendance.

Abby shows off our poster before the expo begins.

Our goals at the event were to inform people of our work in the area, get kids interested in conservation, and advertise our RET and RAHSS opportunities to local high school students and teachers. We got the opportunity to talk to lots of different people, from kids to community members to other exhibitors!

Wyatt sows seeds of conservation-mindedness in the youth. Future Echinacea Project members?

Many thanks to Britney and the rest of the crew at Morris for organizing such a great experience for students, the community, and orgs like us alike. After the event, we revisited some of our favorite spots around town before heading home the next morning. The jury has concluded that the prairie is just as pretty covered in a layer of snow, even if there’s not that much.

Until next time, quad-county area.

January showers bring January flowers?

Forecasted snow turned up as rain in the Chicago area today. But this dreary morning was brightened by a delivery of crocheted Echinacea pens, courtesy of Hattie! Thank you for your craftsmanship!

Stuart presents Wyatt with a bouquet…
Old habits die hard. These are not for harvest, Wyatt!

Hello and Goodbye, Carleton Externs!

You might think three weeks is too short a time to conduct research, but our 2023 Carleton College externs can prove you wrong! We just said goodbye to 4 undergraduate students who spent their winter break in our lab at Chicago Botanic Garden. During this time, they processed data, explored statistics, dove into the world of R, and learned more about the research objectives of the Echinacea Project. All of this contributed to their investigations into research questions of their own. The externs were also able to explore Chicago and the gardens, and connect with other scientists.

Rebecca and Vo worked with Jared to investigate effects of fire on reproduction in Andropogon gerardii. They developed methods for quantifying seed set in Andropogon, and put them into practice during the externship! Learn more about them and their research here and here!

Io worked with Abby and Wyatt to investigate vegetative and reproductive patterns in Echinacea Angustifolia. She was specifically interested in understanding how traits like basal leaf count and longest basal leaf length over time may influence reproductive effort. Read more about her project here.

Conlan worked with Abby and Wyatt to investigate structural reproductive traits and their relationship with pollination success. He wondered if taller head heights and larger head numbers led to higher pollination rates. Read more about what he found here!

There was some disagreement as to whether we were saying, “Echinacea” or “Andropogon” in our group picture this year. No matter- the photo still turned out nicely!

It was a pleasure to work with these 4 externs this year! We wish them the best!

Externship Final Day

I’m Rebecca Lerdau, a Junior at Carleton College. I’ve had a great time these past three weeks as a Carleton College extern at the Echinacea Project. I, and my classmate, Vo Dominguez were working with Jared Beck on the RemAg project looking at Andropogon gerardii’s (big bluestem) reproductive response to fire. 

Having a good time counting the X-Ray images

A big part of our work has been with creating new protocols for determining Andropogon seed set. Previously, the main method for finding Andropogon seed set has been dissecting every floret, but this isn’t realistic on a large scale. Around half of Andropogon’s florets aren’t able to produce seeds, but it can be difficult to distinguish between the two types of florets. We wanted to figure out a way to use inflorescence mass to find total amounts of florets that can produce seeds. We were able to count awns and look at the relationship between awn count and mass. We found a beautifully linear relationship between awn count and seed mass (our R^2 = 0.96!) which allowed us to make an equation to use mass to determine the amount of fruiting florets. We set out to try X-raying Andropogon to determine seed counts. This was also successful, and we created a classification system for counting seeds with X-ray images. 

We also got to try out our new seed set quantification system on some samples from the pilot RemAg experiment. We looked at the effects of burning on Andropogon seed set in 2022 from the pilot plots. While we were unable to find significant results with the data we were looking at, it was good to see that our protocols were working. The protocols are promising, and I look forward to seeing what happens with the larger RemAg project!

 

All in all, it’s been an awn-some experience working as an extern these past few weeks. I’ve learned so much. I’ve enjoyed getting to meet scientists and exploring CBG. We went on some lovely walks and got to see all sorts of cool plants. I had fun working with Andropogon and we even found a few seed predators! Thank you to Stuart, Jared, Wyatt, and Abby for this experience, and thank you to my fellow externs as well.