2023 Update: Search for the Leadplant Flower Moth

The Leadplant Flower Moth (Schinia lucens), is a species of special concern in Minnesota. It used to be common and have an extensive range, but now populations are few and far between. Douglas and Grant counties (our study area) are not included on its current range map. Nonetheless, REU participant Liam Poitra thought that it was possible that this moth might persist in some of the remnants in our study area. Liam planned and conducted a systematic search for the leadplant flower moth for his REU project. If Liam found enough moths to estimate populations sizes or density, then he would investigate characteristics of their habitat for his REU project. If not, then he would transition to another project. He found one individual moth and took some great photos. Details of the search are in Liam’s report.

Liam marches through Staffanson Prairie Preserve. This site was included in his systematic search for the leadplant moth.
  • Start year: 2023
  • Location: prairie remnants in Solem & Land Townships
  • Overlaps with: other projects in prairie remnants
  • Data collected: see Liam’s report
  • Samples or specimens collected: photos only — see the report
  • Products: Liam’s report also saved here… ~Dropbox/teamEchinacea2023/liamPoitra/S.Luscens Sighting.docx

You can read more about Liam’s other REU project: assessing floral resources in remnants & restorations.

2023 Update: Predators in prairie remnants and restorations

Ants are an integral part of ecosystems, playing a role in seed dispersal, detritus removal, pest predation, and nutrient cycling. Because ants nest in the ground, they are particularly susceptible to any process that disturbs the earth and can be heavily impacted by land use practices and management decisions. Diane Roeder, at Augustana University, designed this survey to quantify ant species diversity in remnant and restored prairie patches in western MN. These sites are primarily managed by fire, a type of disturbance that has been hypothesized to impact ant species differently via mortality and/or changes in habitat structure. During the summer, Diane and members of team Echinacea sampled 45 prairie sites (30 remnant, 15 restored), deploying a total of 415 pitfall traps. Diane and her colleagues are in the process of sorting ants from other ground-dwelling invertebrates captured by the traps and will identify specimens to compare abundance, species richness, and community composition from sites under different management regimes. In addition to measuring diversity, They also deployed sentinel prey items to determine whether arthropod communities in these areas remove prey at different rates as a measure of ecosystem services provided by predatory arthropods. To do this, they set out small cages containing moth eggs and recorded the number of eggs removed. In the future, Diane hopes to compare the overall arthropod communities between these types of sites from multiple years of sampling.

Diane traveled all over our study area during her few days in Western Minnesota.
This pitfall trap was set up at a random bb point in our study area.
  • Start year: 2023
  • Location: Prairie remnants and restorations in Solem Township, MN.
  • Overlaps with: Ground Nesting Bees
  • Data collected: species identities and richness (all arthropods, with a focus on ants), sentinel prey removal (number moth eggs removed)
  • Samples or specimens collected: All invertebrates collected in pitfall traps (stored at Augustana University, Sioux Falls, SD)
  • Products: Stay tuned!

2023 Update: Seedling establishment (aka sling)

In 2023, the team continued the seedling recruitment experiment begun in 2007. The original goal of the project was to determine seedling establishment and growth rates in remnant populations of Echinacea angustifolia. Seedling recruitment rates are rarely studied in the field, and this is one of the few studies tracking recruitment in the tallgrass prairie. From 2007 to 2013 in spring, Team Echinacea visited plants which had flowered in the preceding year, and they searched near these maternal plants to find any emerging seedlings. Each fall since then, the team has searched for the seedlings, then juveniles, and measured them.

This year, we visited 51 focal maternal plants at 10 prairie remnants and searched for 86 sling plants, a subset of the original 955 seedlings. We completed sling in two days: September 15th and September 18th. Like last year, team members used the demo form to collect data on the visors, and we also shot any seedlings we could find that didn’t already have a GPS point. In total, the team found 47 basal plants and 5 flowering plants!

  • Start year: 2007
  • Location: Remnants in Douglas County, MN
  • Sites with seedling searches in 2022: East Elk Lake Road, East Riley, KJ’s, Loeffler’s Corner, Landfill, Nessman, Riley, Steven’s Approach, South of Golf Course, Staffanson Prairie
  • Overlaps with: Demographic census in the remnants
  • Data collected:
    • The data were collected on a visor using the demo form. The team recorded plant status (can’t find, basal, dead this year’s leaves, dead last year’s leaves, flowering), number of rosettes, leaf count, nearest neighbors, and head count, if flowering.
    • Scanned datasheets are in Dropbox: ~Dropbox\remData\115_trackSeedlings\slingRefinds2023
    • Physical copies of datasheets and maps can be found in the “Search For Sling 2023” black binder located currently in Hjelm on the back desk.
  • Samples collected: NA
  • Team members who searched for slings in 2022: Abby Widell, Ellysa Johnson, Jan Anderson, Lindsey Paulson.
  • Products:

2023 Update: Ground-nesting bees in prairie remnants and restorations

During the summer of 2023, Team Echinacea embarked on an ENRTF funded mission to better understand how prescribed fires influences solitary bee nesting habitat, food resources, and diversity is critical for providing recommendations about how prescribed fire should be used to promote pollinator conservation and healthy prairie.

We surveyed solitary bee diversity and nesting habitat before and after prescribed fires in a subset of 30 prairie remnants and 15 prairie restorations to determine how prescribed fire affects solitary bee nesting habitat and abundance. We used emergence traps to investigate composition of solitary bees in prairies. This was complemented by detailed measures of soil and litter to characterize how prescribed burning influences the nesting habitat (read more here).

We deployed emergence traps at our random points (bb points) in prairie remnants and restorations in mid-June – early September. Our deployment spanned three rotations of bb points and we put out a total of ~1,238 emergence traps.

El, Luke, and Jan, 2023 pollinator crew, deploy an emergence trap at a bb point.

As of September 28, members of Team Echinacea had processed 850 vials, 122 of which contained bees. Our preliminary catch rate is 14%! These specimens were pinned and are currently at Chicago Botanic Garden, awaiting transportation to University of Minnesota where Zach Portman, a bee taxonomist, will identify them. Team Echinacea also collected lots of non-bee bycatch while processing specimens collected in the traps. Bycatch is currently stored in our freezer at Chicago Botanic Garden.

Jan pins a bee that they found while processing vials from emergence trapping!

Ian Roberts, a M.S. student with the Echinacea Project, has taken charge of the Emergence trapping project and is currently coordinating data entry. When emergence trapping resumes in the 2024 field season, we will be well set up, thanks to detailed written and videotaped protocols made by our summer 2023 pollinator team. The prtocol can be found here: “~/Dropbox/enrtf/emergenceTrapping2023/Emergence Trap Protocol.pdf”. Video instructions are located in “~/Dropbox/enrtf/emergenceTrapping2023/exampleVideos”.

2023 Update: Random points in prairie remnants and restorations

For the ENRTF-funded research project investigating fire effects on ground-nesting bees, plant-pollinator
interactions, and other insects within fragmented prairies, Team Echinacea sampled 45 total prairie sites (30 remnants and 15 restorations).

To obtain robust inferences, it is important to sample randomly so that our sampling effort is not biased by what we perceive to be “good” or “bad” habitat, even subconsciously. To this end, we sampled at random locations within each site. At each site, we established between 30 and 72 sampling locations with unique identifiers (four-digit bbpts, for “burning and bees sampling points”). Early in the summer, before sampling at these points began, we ground truthed the points to ensure we were not choosing in places where we could not sample at all (e.g., think a big rock, a water body, a big patch of poison ivy, a gravel road, etc.).

Jared generated a large number of random points for each site, more points than we actually intended to sample. trap. We visited these points using a high precision gps unit and evaluated whether to “keep” the points and assign them a bbpt or “reject” the point if it could not be sampled safely or effectively.

Jan, 2023 pollinator team member, ground truths bb points at Torgen.
  • Start year: 2023
  • Location: prairie remnants and restorations in Solem Township, MN
  • Overlaps with: ground nesting bees, fire x fragmentation, soils in remnants and restorations, floral resources in remnants and restorations, microhabitats in prairie remnants and restorations
  • Data collected: spatial locations of accepted bb points are in “~/Dropbox/geospatialDataBackup2023/convertedXML2023/bbptsForEnrtf”. Maps of bb points are located in “~/Dropbox/enrtf/emergenceTrapping2023”
  • Samples or specimens collected: NA
  • Products: Stay tuned!

2023 Update: Microhabitats in prairie remnants and restorations

During summer 2023, Team Echinacea Echinacea characterized local environmental conditions to better understand which environmental factors are associated with good habitat for ground-nesting bees. This microhabitat assessment complemented emergence trapping for our ENRTF funded research on fire’s influence on ground nesting bees habitats. We sampled local environmental conditions near randomly placed bbpts in remnants and restorations.

We used a light meter to quantify light availability via a measure of photosynthetically active radiation. We took PAR readings at 1 meter and at ground level ~40 cm NE of the bb point. We also used a soil penetrometer to quantify soil compaction at ~40 cm NE of the bb point.

Team Echinacea conducted microhabitat assessments for three rotations of bb points (rotations 1,2,&3) across 46 sites. Over the summer, we took microhabitat assessment measurements at a total of 1,238 bb points.

Blaire, high school participant 2023, takes a light measurement at a bb point. We were particular about position and timeframe to ensure consistent measurements.
  • Start year: 2023
  • Location: prairie remnants and restorations in Solem Township, MN
  • Overlaps with: ground nesting bees
  • Data collected: light availability (par measurements) and Soil Compaction (psi measurements) are stored in ~Repos/bbnest/data/microhabitatDataCuration/curate2023MicrohabitatData.R
  • Samples or specimens collected: NA
  • Products: Stay Tuned!

2023 Update: Common garden experiments

Every year since 1996, Team Echinacea members record flowering phenology, taking measuring data and harvest heads of thousands of Echinacea angustifolia plants in common garden experiments. These experimental plots are prairie restorations and abandoned agriculture fields that are managed as grassland habitat. Some plots have multiple ongoing experiments within. Currently, the Echinacea Project currently has 10 established experimental plots.

This project status report will contain updates on experimental plots 1, 2, 4, 5 and 8, as well as management updates for all plots. Specific reports for the remaining experimental plots can be found on separate posts including Amy Dykstra’s plot (exPt03), the hybrid plots (exPt06, exPt07, exPt09), and the West Central Area common garden (exPt10).

exPt01: Experimental plot 1 was first planted in 1996 (cleverly termed the 1996 cohort), and has been planted with nine other experiments in subsequent years, with the most recent planting being Amy Waananen’s inter-remnant crosses. 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), quantifying effects of inbreeding (inb1inb2), and assessing quantitative genetic variation (qgen1). There are also a number of smaller experiments in it, including fitness of Hesperostipa sparteaaphid addition and exclusion, and pollen addition and exclusion (the last experiment was continued the summer of 2023 and will have separate update posts). In 2023, we visited 3,699 of the 10,992 positions planted and found 3,118 alive. 560 plants were classified as “flowering” in exPt01 this year. This is a little less than half of the plants that flowered in summer 2022 (1,111) – an interesting note considering exPt01 was burned the spring of both 2022 and 2023. In summer 2023, we harvested 796 total Echinacea heads in exPt01. We also added 270 additional staples to the experimental plot this year, signifying positions were a living plant has not been found for over three years.

Some numbers for experiments within exPt01

Inb1: The INB1 experiment investigates the relationship between inbreeding level and fitness in Echinacea angustifolia. Each plant in experiment INB1 originates from one of three cross types, depending on the relatedness of the parents: between maternal half siblings; between plants from the same remnant, but not sharing a maternal or paternal parent; and between individuals from different remnants. All individuals were planted in 2001. We continued to measure fitness and flowering phenology in these plants. In 2023, of the original 557 plants in INB1, 85 were still alive. Of the plants that were alive this year, 24 of them were flowering; this count is down from summer of 2022 where 40 of the plants were flowering.

qgen: The qGen1 (quantitative genetics) experiment in p1 was designed to quantify the heritability of traits in Echinacea angustifolia. We are especially interested in Darwinian fitness. Could fitness be heritable? During the summer of 2002 we crossed plants from the 1996 & 1997 cohorts of exPt01. We harvested heads, dissected achenes, and germinated seeds over the winter. In the spring of 2003 we planted the resulting 4468 seedlings (this great number gave rise to this experiment’s nickname “big batch”). 1,417 plants in qGen1 were alive in 2023. Of those plants, 298 flowered this summer.

Other plots:

exPt02: To examine the role flowering phenology plays in the reproduction of Echinacea angustifolia, Jennifer Ison planted this plot in 2006 with 3,961 individuals selected for extreme (early or late) flowering timing, or phenology. Using this phenological data, we explore how flowering phenology influences reproductive fitness and estimate the heritability of flowering time in E. angustifolia. In the summer of 2023, we visited 1,855 positions of the 3,961 positions originally planted. We measured 1,283 living plants, of which 118 were flowering, with a total of 148 flowering heads. In the fall, we harvested 67 heads from exPt02. The large difference between the number of heads and the number harvested has to do with high levels of seed predation, mainly by ground squirrels. Last year, Will, Jennifer, and other members of Team Echinacea published a paper in the American Journal of Botany using data from exPt02 – check it out hereLocation: Hegg Lake WMA

exPt04: Experimental plot 4 was planted to gauge whether Echinacea from small remnant populations could be genetically rescued via an outcross to larger, more genetically diverse populations. Caroline Ridley and other members planted this plot in 2008. We did not visit exPt04 this year. Location: Hegg Lake WMA

exPt05: The only experimental plot planted at Staffanson Prairie Preserve (SPP), exPt05, was planted to compare progeny of maternal plants from burned and unburned sections of SPP. There were 2800 plants planted originally, but high mortality made it impractical to visit the plot row-by-row. Now, we and treat the plot like demography. We use our survey-grade GPS to find plants in exPt05 that have previously flowered and add more plants to the stake file if new plants in the plot flower. In 2023 we found 11 living plants, none of which were flowering! We did locate one new flowering plant within the plot boundaries. Location: Staffanson Prairie Preserve

exPt08: Team Echinacea established quantitative genetics experiments to quantify additive genetic variance of fitness in Echinacea, with the idea that we can estimate evolutionary potential of study populations. The maternal parents of qGen2 and qGen3 are plants in the 1996, 1997, and 1999 cohorts. These plants were crossed with pollen from plants in remnants to produce seed for qGen2 and qGen3, which now inhabit exPt08. Originally, 12,813 seeds were sown in the common garden. Seeds from the same cross (shared maternal and paternal plants) were sown in meter-long segments between nails. A total of 3,253 seedlings were originally found, but only 385 plants were found alive in 2023. There were 15 flowering plants in 2023, and 15 heads. On a side note, one additional flowering plant was found in t-plot, and we harvested three heads from that. Location: Wagenius property

Experimental plot management:

  • Burned exPt01 (3 May 2023) and exPt08 (17 May 2023)
  • Replanted pedicularis in exPt01 and exPt10, augmenting Drake’s experimental treatments (replaced ones that died)
    • Dropbox/teamEchinacea2023/z.scanned/replantPedicularisDatasheetWithEchStatusScanned2023-06-21.pdf”
    • Dropbox/teamEchinacea2023/z.scanned/replantPedicularisDatasheetWithEchStatus2Scanned2023-06-21.pdf
  • Planted plugs in ditch west of exPt01
  • Broadcast seed in p8 after the spring burn and in the fall, including Comandra umbellata
  • Stuart trimmed flowering A. gerardii and S. nutans just north of tplot
  • Some plots in hegg (not exPt02) got run over by heavy machinery
  • We did not:
    • Treat sumac
    • Weed in exPt01 (except hawkweed)
    • Treat ash in exPt08, but we noticed that ash south of plot responded favorably to last year’s treatment


  • Start year: Differs between experiment, see above. First ever experimental plot was in 1996.
  • Location: Differs between experiment, see above.
  • Overlaps with: …everything!
  • Data collected: Raw measuring data can be found in cgData repository. Processed data will be uploaded to SQL database. Currently, SQL database has measuring data up until 2022.
  • Samples or specimens collected: See above for total harvested heads in each plot.
  • Products: Many publications and independent projects.

2023 Update: Quantity and quality of Echinacea pollen and nectar

We’re interested in investigating what resources are available to Echinacea visitors and learning more about the pollen and nectar Echinacea produces. We hope to learn if the nutritional resources available differ before and after burns. In 2022, Britney House developed methods for collecting nectar from Echinacea using microcapillary tubes. Read more about her methods here.

During the summer of 2023, the team collected pollen and nectar samples from Echinacea angustifolia at 19 sites in and around Solem Township, MN (plants at Hegg Lake were Echinacea pallida). We searched for and shot the ~20 plants (or, if few were available, as many as we could find) at each site that were closest to a random point. We then selected ten of those plants to bag up to three of their heads with pollinator exclusion bags. Throughout the duration of their flowering, we collected pollen from all bagged plants and nectar from five of them per site.

Stuart collects nectar from an Echinacea head

Midway through the experiment (mid-July), we removed bags from some of the pollen only plants to adjust our sample size to only the five pollen/nectar plants plus two backups per site. We removed bags from pollen/nectar plants and backup plants when they were done flowering, we’d collected a cumulative 50 mm of nectar from them, or we had received less than 15 mm of nectar from the plant in the last three visits (the latter was more of a guideline than a rule, used to save time by eliminating plants that were unlikely to provide us with enough nectar for analysis). At the Hegg pallida restoration, any heads that were not originally bagged were decapitated, and all heads were decapitated upon the final removal of their bags.

Following some experimentation, we conducted nectar collection only in the afternoons, while pollen collection could be done any time of day. In total, we collected 856 vials of pollen and 580 vials of nectar from 104 plants. These were given to Rahul Roy and Margaret Medini at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, who will be doing data analysis.

Data entry for collection datasheets is complete, and verified csvs for each site can be found at: Dropbox/teamEchinacea2023/z.pollenNectarDataEntry/coreVerified. Scans can be found at: Dropbox/teamEchinacea2023/z.pollenNectarDataEntry/scans.

  • Start year: 2023
  • Location: Various prairie remnants and one restoration (Hegg Pallida) around Solem Township, MN
  • Overlaps with: bbFood, nectar experiment
  • Data collected: 
    • plant IDs (tag), location, flowering status, assessments for selection for study
      • Dropbox/teamEchinacea2023/z.pollenNectarDataEntry/scans/metaScans
    • flowering day, male floret count, pollen from N anthers in tube, pollen tube ID, tt color, nectar tube ID, quantity of nectar (mm) per floret
      • Dropbox/teamEchinacea2023/z.pollenNectarDataEntry/scans/coreScans
      • Dropbox/teamEchinacea2023/z.pollenNectarDataEntry/coreVerified
      • Dropbox/teamEchinacea2023/z.pollenNectarDataEntry/summaryData
  • Specimens collected: 
    • 856 pollen tubes (at St. Kate’s)
    • 580 nectar tubes (at St. Kate’s)
  • Team members involved with this project: Summer team 2023, Rahul Roy (St. Kate’s) , Margaret Medini (St. Kate’s)
  • Products: pending
  • Funding: ENRTF

2023 Update: floral resources in prairie remnants and restorations

During the summer of 2023, Team Echinacea conducted floral surveys at randomly selected bb points in remnant prairies and restorations. We are interested in quantifying floral resources (i.e., food for bees) and we want to understand how fire influences the diversity and abundance of flowering plants.

At each focal point (bbpt) we identified species rooted within a 2 meter radius and recorded the furthest stage of development. We measured abundance by binning a range of floral units (i.e., 1-5 flowering units got label “5”).

Floral surveys were split into “visit group A” and “visit group B”. We surveyed different random points when revisiting sites. In total, we conducted 415 floral surveys across 45 sites.

Liam Poitra, a 2023 Summer Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Participant, contributed to this research project investigating the effects of fire on diversity and abundance of flowering plants. Liam assisted in fieldwork and data organization. Inventory, protocols, and blank datasheets for floral assessments are located in ~/Dropbox/enrtf/floralSurveys2023.

Liam Poitra, REU 2023, navigates to a floral assessment focal point at Staffanson Prairie Preserve. The 2-meter stick he carries will help keep track of what is in the bounds for survey.
  • Start year: 2023
  • Location: prairie remnants and restorations in Solem Township
  • Overlaps with:  Ground nesting bees
  • Data collected: Floral survey datasheets can be found in ~/Dropbox/teamEchinacea2023/z.scanned/”
  • Samples or specimens collected: NA
  • Products: Stay tuned!

2023 Update: soils in remnants and restorations

In July, 2023, a team from Minnesota State University, Mankato visited Team Echinacea to sample prairie soil. They are investigating how fire and management history influences physical, chemical and biological soil properties. Differences in soils may also help explain plant fitness and native bee nesting patterns. After three hot days, 263 samples were collected from 28 sites!

Back in Mankato, four undergraduate students processed the soil samples by sieving and weighing out the field collections. The preliminary results show soil bulk density is lower in remnant prairies compared to restored prairies. This makes sense in that remnant prairies have retained their organic-matter rich topsoil, infiltrated with plant roots and filled with pore spaces that develop over time in natural prairies. The soil bulk density is also lower on flat (no slope) topography, in part due to illuviation (deposition) of nutrients and organic material from nearby sloped areas.

The team hopes to continue its investigations to understand which soil properties are sensitive to different management histories and how the patchwork of fragmented prairies in the region vary in carbon, nitrogen and biological activity. These data should provide foundational information for many additional projects.

The Mankato soil team gathers around a bbPoint to discuss sampling. The team visited bbPoints in remnants and restorations over a 3 day period.
  • Start year: 2023
  • Location: : 28 study plots on private, federal and state land with different land use histories: remnant and restored grassland
  • Overlaps with: Fire x Fragmentation; Ground Nesting Bees
  • Data collected: Soil bulk density, maximum water-holding capacity, gravimetric soil moisture content, soil aggregate stability (SLAKES), total organic C, total N, inorganic N (plant available forms: ammonium and nitrate), aerobic respiration rate (proxy for microbial activity and decomposition)
  • Samples or specimens collected: Topsoil bulk density and additional soil (top 15 cm) for each bee nesting trap
  • Products: Stay tuned!