Midwest Ecology and Evolution Conference 2024

Registration is now open for MEEC! This conference, organized and directed entirely by students, highlights the work of undergraduate and graduate students in poster or oral format.

Many, many Team Echinacea members have presented their research at MEEC in the past (just search MEEC here on the flog). In fact, I presented a poster on aphids with Allie Radin in 2022! Will I be submitting an abstract this year? Only time will tell. But you should!


  • Location: Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
  • Abstracts due: 15 March, 2024
  • Conference begins: 6 April, 2024
  • Note: The total solar eclipse is on April 8th, not too far away from the conference…

Drake presents at CBG

Today, Drake gave a great talk titled “Investigating the effects of parasitic plants in tallgrass prairies” for the Plant Science Department at the Chicago Botanic Garden. We enjoyed hearing an update on his research and peeking at some preliminary results! According to Lindsey, “The talk was pedicularily riveting and he really comandra’d the room. Drake is producing cuscuting-edge science. His research agalinis with broader conservation and restoration goals in the tallgrass prairie.”

Externship Reflection ~ Padmini

Today is the last day of our externship. As an extern, I learned about the entire process of data collection and analysis for the Echinacea project. I worked through the workflow of processing the heads that were collected in the summer and then separating achenes, counting them, creating a random sample, x-raying, and classifying to determine whether achenes had a seed inside (were pollinated).

With all of the data that we helped collect, we got to pick and explore a question from 3 years of data of ~32 prarie remnants. I decided to work with paired samples (looking at the same plant over two years) rather than looking at the entire data set (or a population), which resulted in around 11 sites to analyze. Comparing paired samples is interesting, because they control for site, isolation, and other differences. With the pairs, I looked at whether burning influences reproduction.

Three aspects of reproduction- achene count, head count, and seed set interested me, because they all are extremely important to how many seeds are developed. Achene count did not change between burned and unburned years. Head count and seed set show some evidence (not statistically significant, but really close to it) that they potentially change between burned and unburned years. It is interesting that head count shows some differences, because I was a bit unsure whether it would change, as either genetic or environmental factors could play a role.

For more information and graphs related to my question and data analysis, here are my slides for the presentation that I gave today:

We also got to meet other people who work at Chicago Botanic Garden, walk around and enjoy the garden, get a tour of the production greenhouses, see the exhibition greenhouses, and watch presentations of other researchers at CBG. All of these experiences were helpful, and interesting to consider with doing research.

Overall, the externship has been a great experience. I learned a lot about using workflows, organizing work, writing and presenting work, the research process, asking and answering research questions, and more. In the future, I look forward to exploring more of science and research, whether with prairie organisms or elsewhere.

Final externship reflection and presentation

During the three weeks of my externship with the Echinacea Project, I am grateful to have learned about the steps used to process data in this lab and about the scientific process more broadly. I spent the majority of my time with the Echinacea Project practicing lab techniques that make it possible to answer critical ecological questions using Echinacea. While learning about data processing, I was supported in creating my own research question and hypothesis that I was able to analyze with data and the knowledge I gained about prairie ecosystems. Here is a photo of Padmini and I randomizing!

I learned how to analyze data with R and make graphs that helped me visualize the data and the relationships between remnant area size, isolation plants, and seed set. I used statistical tests to assess the strength of relationships between these factors in order to draw conclusions from the data pertaining to conservation of echinacea and other prairie species who use similar systems. 

I wanted to investigate how pollination is impacted by the degree of isolation of plants and remnant size. My research questions were if isolation or remnant size impacts seed set, and which is a better indicator of seed set. My null hypothesis was that neither isolation nor remnant size impacts seed set. I predicted that a larger area would correlate with a higher seed set and that higher isolation would result in a lower seed set. 

I found that the number of flowering heads correlates with a higher seed set, however neither the area size nor the degree of isolation had a significant effect on the seed set. These results suggest that the proximity of flowering heads is more important than how large the remnant is. Many of the remnants are close together, and pollinators likely travel between remnants and move pollen between flowers at different remnants. Therefore, measuring isolation only within remnants does not take the full context into account. Here are my slides:

Other than my research project, some other highlights of my time at the Chicago Botanic Garden were meeting a variety of scientists and hearing about their projects and experiences. I particularly enjoyed seeing the production greenhouses and learning about the Plants of Concern Program. Here is one of my favorite orchids from the production greenhouse:

Pollinator fidelity at MEEC

On March 5, 2022, Maris Woldin presented a poster titled “Pollinator fidelity in burned and unburned remnant prairies” at the Midwest Ecology and Evolution Conference (MEEC). See the poster below!

Aphids at MEEC

On March 5, 2022, Allie and Wyatt presented about aphids and prescribed fire at the Midwest Ecology and Evolution Conference (MEEC). See the poster below!

Roadside pollinators at MEEC

On March 5, 2022, Mia and Alex presented the Pollinators on Roadsides project at the Midwest Ecology and Evolution Conference (MEEC). They focused on the bee abundance results since the specimens had not been fully identified to species yet.

Team Echinacea at TPE

On 18 February 2022, Amy, Jared, Mia, and Alex presented at the online Prairie Enthusiasts (TPE) conference. Posters were available online during the conference (February 15-19, 2022), and conference attendees could ask questions via the chat on the 18th. Check out the posters below!

Externship Final Day and Reflection – Caitlin

Unfortunately, today marked the end of my externship and therefore my flog posts. I spent today giving my presentation at the lab meeting and reflecting with the team about my experience in the externship.

This presentation, aided by the slides attached below, represented the culmination of this externship experience and all I have learned from it. In order to answer the research question I posed, I needed the relevant data that I had spent the last three weeks collecting. From day one, I learned how to sequentially transform cut plant heads into data points that can be used to determine relationships like the burn effect on achene count and seed set. Yesterday, I learned how to visually represent and perform statistical operations on that data using R. Today, I practiced conveying not only my results to an audience of scientists but getting them to engage in my narrative and conclusions. Part of the presentation also included a discussion afterward about questions others had and contemplation about the reasons and implications surrounding certain results.

In particular, my presentation aimed to expand on the echinacea burn effects research done by The Echinacea Project at Staffanson Praire Preserve. I was curious whether the burn effect on production and pollination found in this study and various other published ones would hold up to recent years and to a study area beyond just Staffanson. As shown below, I found the burns performed at multiple sites resulted in a greater (statistically significant) increase in the seed set of echinacea heads at these sites than for those that were not burned. Feel free to take a look for more information and specific results:

Overall, this externship has increased my practical lab knowledge and experience in data processing. In general, it helped bolster my ability to form and carry out a research question all the way to the project’s completion. In addition to my own project, I got to participate in lab meetings and share suggestions and questions with people presenting their papers in progress. This exposed me to not only the workflow of data processing but the commonplace revision and discussion of ideas. Another thing this externship strengthened was my networking skills, as I sought out and spoke with multiple employees who gave me insight into their projects and how I can best pursue my interest in similar work. These people included land managers, like Matt and Joan, and Ph.D. program students, like Lea and Drake. The employees I directly worked with, like Alex, Mia, Wyatt, Jared, and Stuart, especially ensured that I was able to take all that I could from this externship and meaningfully contribute to their project’s progression. I am immensely grateful to have been a part of this experience and I can’t wait to someday join such a kind community and fascinating field of study.

Externship Presentation and Reflection

Today is the last day of the externship and we presented our findings.

After a really intense afternoon of learning to use R and working with data on Thursday, we made some graphs and did some statistical tests on the data we have been collecting (as well as spatial data that Jared and Alex got ready for us). It was really hard because I didn’t have that much experience in R, but it was really rewarding as I learned how to make the graphs I want and do statistical tests.

I was interested in looking at tradeoffs plants make in reproduction in the first place, but then I realized that I couldn’t directly quantify resources plants put into different aspects of reproduction with the data I had. I decided to change things a bit and focus on limitations to reproduction. I set up scenarios of plant’s reproductive effort under different conditions in terms of resources and tried to clearly explain it by having hypotheses and visual aids. Another potential limitation I considered was limitation in pollination, which I quantified by looking at level of isolation based on distance to neighbors. I made a lot of assumptions which I hope are true – for example that plants really would put all the resources into reproduction, and that distances from other conspecific plants are a predictor of pollination.

I didn’t find strong evidence for any of my hypotheses except that there is a negative relationship between the distance to 3rd nearest neighbor and seed set in liatris. It was interesting but also expected – isolation seems to be negatively impacting pollination and thus seed set.

The presentation went well and these are the slides I used for it.

Overall, this externship has been a really great experience. I learned so much about the processes of doing science, about what scientists do on a daily basis and how a research group functions. I’m really glad that I got to participate in the lab meeting, explore in the Garden, be a part of many processes of research and eating lunch with the lab group everyday!

I also learned that studying plants is a lot harder than I imagined. It’s a really long process, and there are many biases that could happen. Organizing a lab takes a lot of work, and making a standardized ‘assembly line’ to process hundreds of plants every year is incredibly hard. The results or findings sometimes are not what you expected, or don’t seem to make sense at all. These are all things that I never imagined to be a part of studying plants and ecology. I feel like now I have a much better idea of what the field is like and what to expect moving forward from here. I am really grateful for this experience and for everyone who made it possible.