The best birthday gift anyone could ask for:

A smooth start to the first emergence trapping deployment! Today we placed 23 traps at three sites, making good use of our new color-coded flagging system. So cool to see our work from the last few weeks starting to pay off!

Some emergence trapping sites are a lot smaller than others! It will be interesting to see whether size is associated with catch rate. Do bees prefer to nest in big sites?
REU student Zach deploys a trap at our first site of the day. This site was burned earlier in the spring, can you see how short the vegetation is?

These traps will be out for four days, then emptied and sent back out to new sites on Monday. Fingers crossed we’ll see some bees!

NOTE: 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 (LCCMR).

bad hawkweed

We have a patch of an invasive weed in our main experimental plot. We have been trying to keep this non-native hawkweed from spreading for several years. This year we did a really good job. First, we found all the satellite patches and used the opportunity to practice reading and making maps. Then we pulled all the flowers stems–we estimated 369 stems. Here’s a map of all hawkweed patches and the main infestations is the 10m x 10m square.

Then we pulled all the stems in the square of infestation, counting as we pulled. Here are the counts & the total in the square:

sum(172, 120, 165, 108, 142, 103, 128, 121, 206)
[1] 1265

After we counted and pulled, we each made an independent estimate of the number of flowering stems we missed. We could have missed stems that were trampled or difficult to see with the current light conditions. Here are our counts with the mean and median:

mean(37, 30, 25, 40, 120, 20, 40, 48, 32)
[1] 37
median(37, 30, 25, 40, 120, 20, 40, 48, 32)
[1] 37

Stuart went back when it was cloudy and found 47 stems in the infestation square, mostly trampled. The next day he systematically walked the square and found 4 more. So that’s 51 missed. One person had a pretty close estimate (48). All but one of our estimates were optimistic about our thoroughness.

round(c(37,51)/(1265+51), 3)
[1] 0.028 0.039

We estimated a miss rate of 3% and our actual rate was closer to 4%. We practiced estimating, pulled a lot of stems, ~1700, and have maps to go back and get the plants later this season. Good work, team!

Reflections on my IS, and an update on E-trapping

As part of my recent independent study with Stuart and Northwestern undergrad Lena Parnassa this spring, I took an initial pass at analyzing the data from our 2023 emergence traps. These data are an important contribution to the broader ENRTF project, which is geared at understanding how ground-nesting bees respond to prescribed fire in prairies. This independent study enabled me to learn a great deal about database organization, coding, and collaboration between data scientists. Before we could run any of our analyses, we had to wade through quite a bit of data cleaning to ensure all our joins were functioning properly. This meant that we had to prioritize the bee analysis rather than the bycatch in our traps (millipedes, grasshoppers, and so forth), so stay tuned for more in that department! We were also working with abundance data rather than species data, as identifications of all the bees we caught in 2023 are still forthcoming. This means that some of the data points in our analysis are most likely incidental, but nevertheless, here’s a visual of what we found! 

Figure 1: Mean bee catch rate by site type. Catch rate refers to the proportion of traps which had bees. 

Figure 2: Bee catch rate by site. Catch rate refers to the proportion of traps which had bees. 

Mean bee catch rate by burn history. Only three sites were 3 years post-burn in 2023, other burn treatments had 7-8 sites.

It looks like remnant prairies had more bees than restorations, but there’s a ton of variation across sites of the same land use type. It’ll be interesting to see what other factors may be associated with this variation, if any. Once we get those species ID’s and confer with our taxonomist, we’d like to tweak our protocol slightly going into this summer to maximize our chances of catching the bees at a given site. We’re considering stocking our traps with propylene glycol to better preserve specimens, trimming the vegetation around traps to make sure bees can find the entrance, and deploying later in the day to give foraging bees time to find their way back to their nests. Looking forward to kicking of the 2024 trapping season!

NOTE: 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 (LCCMR).

NU student appears to have shrunk while xraying Andropogon samples

NU Work Study student, Maria, took on the task of xraying Andropongon samples for our project investigating fire’s impact on reproduction in big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii). We were about two samples in when we noticed that either this “lil box” containing samples was either very big or Maria had gotten very small.

Normal Boxes you’d find around our lab
Maria with giant box unlike things we commonly see

Has this happened to anyone before?

Project Assistantship Third Check-in: Aster Graphical Model

In one of our most pristine tallgrass prairie habitats that remain in west central Minnesota, an accident was made in its management (not by Team Echinacea or members of The Echinacea Project). A Minnesota non-native Echinacea, Echinacea pallida, was seeded into the habitat. These non-native Echinacea flower at a similar time to our native Echinacea angustifolia and we suspected that they could cross-pollinate. To test this, an experimental cross was conducted where pollen from donors of both species E. angustifolia and E. pallida were applied to stigma of receptive Echinacea of both species (so we have four crosses: Ang x Ang, Ang x Pal, Pal x Pal, and Pal x Ang). These crosses produced some viable seed and the progeny were grown in an experimental garden. We monitored the progeny’s survivorship, size, and reproductive effort (once they began flowering in the 5th year). These data will allow us to answer questions about the fitness of hybrid Echinacea compared to non-hybrids.

I made an aster graphical model that I am going to use to test hypotheses about the fitness of hybrid Echinacea. The graphical model contains survivorship (represented as ld or “living during”), whether the plant flowered (Flowering), and a count of the number of heads produced by a flowering plant (HdCt). A noticeable feature of the graphical model is the absence of flowering in 2019, this was because none of the plants in the experiment flowered that year. In the previous year, the first plant flowered and it was the only plant to flower, interestingly it was a Pal x Pal cross.

We’ll burn that prairie when we get to it

Members of Team Echinacea are freshly returned from a successful burn outing! We completed five experimental burns during our trip to western MN. A major win for the experimental design of our MN ENRTF funded research on prescribed fire and ground nesting bees as well as for conservation! Here is the scoop:

Late Friday night we got to the Hjelm House and were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis. In hindsight, I think this auspicious sighting boded well for our good fortune in burning conditions.

On Saturday morning we headed to Torgeson’s to burn the northern unit. Because it was predicted to be a dry day, we got an early start and were ready to burn by 10:45. We got to see lots of spring flora before the burn: pucoons, violets, sedges, pussytoes, etc… These plants will be even happier next year. With help from Lee, the burn went very smoothly. Torgeson’s is a hilly site, so the burn was slope driven and we had a great view. Things are pretty greened up in the area, so the burn was quite smoky. USFWS, who were burning a big restoration right next door must have been burning cattails- look at that thick, brown smoke coming from the other side of the road. Almost like we are having bonfires at neighboring campsites. Cute!

Jared secures the break at torgen before we stand back and watch the fire burn out.

Next we ventured into Grant County. No burning there- and if you’ve been following along that may not be a surprise to you. So it was back to Douglas Co. After lunch the crew headed to hutch to burn the western unit. Another Hilly site. We prepped our breaks and were ready to go! Burn number 2 down!

Sunday was a no-burn day because wildfire smoke from Canada was hanging over many counties in MN. A great day to get work done on the porch and venture into Morris to revisit old haunts. We anxiously awaited the next day’s updated report on burn restrictions.

Monday morning we got the go ahead to burn in Grant county!! We called in our backups (former team members Daytona and Liam plus a few of Liam’s friends) and headed to Yellow Orchid Hill West to train our first time burners in at a smaller site. The wind was squirrely but our burn was successful and we were just a hop, skip and a jump away from the revered hulze unit. After 3 failed attempts, was this finally our day?

Stuart and Jared watch the last flames burn out in the center of hulze.

Yes! Drive down highway 55 and you will see for yourself! A hilly expanse of charred earth! A sight for sore eyes after the last burn way, way back in 2003.

By this time, restrictions were lifted in Douglas Co. and the crew headed to Nice Island for a final burn before calling it a day and heading back to the farmhouse. Over Jean’s rhubarb cake we envisioned a utopian or maybe dystopian future on team Echinacea where we have a high tech call center and everything is drone operated. We’ll keep you posted on the call center and the rest of the burns we hope to get done this season.

Project Assistantship Second Check-in: Further Data Exploration

An R file of my exploratory work into experiment 7 can be found here:

The goal of this second data exploration was to determine the number of plants living in 2023 in each cross type and their plant status (e.g. basal, flowering, etc).

Additionally, we wanted to know how many plants flowered each year given their cross types.

Justin’s research on prescribed fire and soil properties

There are so many interesting questions to ask within the study design of our MN ENRTF funded research on prescribed fire and ground nesting bees! We are lucky to collaborate with researchers in the area who are taking them on.

Justin presents his research at the MSU-Mankato research symposium

Justin Kjorness, undergraduate at Minnesota State University-Mankato, worked with Drs. Mrganka De and Matt Kaproth (and many more) to collect soil samples at our remnants and restorations this summer. He has since been asking questions about the effects of prescribed fire regimes on soil physical properties. He presented these results at the MSU-Mankato research symposium this week!

Learn more about Justin’s results below!

Project Assistantship First Check-in: Data Exploration

An R file on my initial exploration of the various data files that make up experiment 7 can be found here:

The goal of this initial data exploration was to determine questions and hypotheses that I will be exploring with aster models. To do this it is important to see what groundwork has been laid. Nicholas Goldsmith is the one who laid most of the groundwork on analysis for this project and it can be found here:

Initial question: How does pedigree effect reproductive effort (i.e. flowering)?

This is of interest because 61 plants in experiment 7 have flowered since 2018 (this may not be 61 unique flowering plants but instead 61 unique instances of flowering across those years [2018 – 2023]).

Brian Lovejoy Introduction


I’m Brian Lovejoy and I have the pleasure of joining the Echinacea Project for my spring quarter project assistantship. I am a PhD Candidate with Northwestern University’s Plant Biology and Conservation program. While working as a project assistant is a requirement for my program, I was ecstatic when I saw the description for this project! It is not often that I get the opportunity to work on pollinator studies, and I am greatly looking forward to the experience.

My research involves understanding the connections between human behaviors and perceptions and urban development practices with a focus on lawn ownership and cultivation. I get to work with an incredible team of scientists to find different alternatives to traditional lawn applications in order to find potential solutions to urban ecological issues as well as addressing urban restoration goals. My project specifically focuses on understanding how lawn alternatives might impact urban flood frequency, and the scale at which lawn alternatives might be implemented to have an impact. This work involves interviewing homeowners, a pilot-scale hydrology experiment, and lots of GIS (Geographic Information Systems).

My contribution to the pollinator study will be to use GIS as well as other mapping software applications like google earth to characterize the landscape in which the experiment is taking place in order to shed light on the diversity and abundance of pollinators within the project area. I look forward to working with the team on this project and continuing to learn and grow as a scientist!