Allen’s Investiture

Hear ye, hear ye! On December 14th of 2022, members of Achene County celebrated volunteer Allen Wagner for his service. In 2022 alone, Allen has worked over 683 hours and counted over 52,653 achenes thus far. However, Allen has been an essential member of Team Echinacea for many years and has been a volunteer at the Chicago Botanic Gardens for 17 years! The celebration began with an official proclamation from Stuart, our town crier. Allen was given the honorific of “The Count of Achene County”.

No noble is complete without their regal garb. Along with the title of “The Count”, Allen received his black and purple royal mantle and an all-powerful Echinacea scepter. Now everyone in the county will recognize our royal member.

There was quite the crowd for this special coronation! All great celebrations involve some sweet treat, so Alex made a delicious chocolate cake for the occasion. The cake was frosted so when you cut it into slices, the slices looked like achenes!

Allen is just one of the many volunteers who keep this village running. We are so thankful for all their hard work and dedication!

Remnant 2022 harvest summary

This summer, we harvested 330 Echinacea angustifolia heads from 23 prairie remnants. Remnant harvest started on August 16th and ended on September 14th, when we finally collected the last 4 heads, 3 at Steven’s Approach and 1 at Landfill West. We harvested the most heads on August 23rd, a total of 109 heads in one day. The heads are located in 15 gbags labeled RA-RP (there is no gbag RJ).

We only visited sites where we recorded phenology this summer, so we harvested from fewer sites than last year. We did not harvest from Aanenson, East Elk Lake Road, Near Town Hall, On 27, Riley, Railroad, or Town Hall.

Volunteers Luk and Sue clean rem2022 heads in the lab

After Manogya and I completed data entry on the harvest list, I inventoried all of the bags that we brought back to the lab. There were a few mysteries to solve. We had several extra heads, but they mostly turned out to be heads that were supposed to be harvested, but someone forgot to check them off on the harvest datasheet, so it looked like they were missing. However, there was one perplexing puzzle that took some sleuthing to unravel. Two different people claimed to have harvested a head with a black twist tie from plant 18066 at Landfill West. In the lab, I found two heads with black twist ties labeled 18066, but I knew that they couldn’t both be the same plant. I donned my Sherlock hat and examined all the available evidence: survey, demography, and phenology data. From the survey data, I figured out that plant 18066’s neighbor, plant 27711, also had a head with black twist tie, so one of the duplicate heads was likely from the nearby plant. The phenology data revealed that 27711’s head had white gunk on it during the summer, and it had more rows of achenes than 18066’s head. Sure enough, one of the heads was larger than the other and had a speck of white on it. Mystery solved! I removed the imposter from the bag of heads to clean.

The volunteers started cleaning the 2022 remnant heads on October 11th. They are currently working on gbag RE, bag 5 of 15, so they are making great progress.

Congrats volunteers and students!

It’s been a busy spring at the lab: 11 volunteers and 6 students from Northwestern and Lake Forest College contributed to the Echinacea Project. We are currently wrapping up before field season starts, and we want to celebrate everything they accomplished in the last few months! Since January, volunteers and students:

  • Finished cleaning cg2018 (4 bags)
  • Cleaned 9 bags from cg2019 (only 4 left!)
  • Finished scanning rem2020 and rem2021 (359 heads)
  • Counted 194 heads from rem2020
  • Finished randomizing rem2020 (221 heads)
  • Randomized 227 heads from rem2021

And that’s just Echinacea. People also worked on several other prairie species: Liatris aspera, Lilium philadelphicum, and Andropogon gerardii.

In total, volunteers and cleaned ~1,014 Echinacea heads, scanned 359 heads, counted 194 heads, and randomized 448 heads. Citizen science at its best!

There are 106 heads from rem2021 left to randomize. Can we finish by next week???

Cleaning 2018 is done!

On Friday, volunteers Marty and Mike finished cleaning the last batch of heads from the 2018 common garden experiment. Huzzah! The volunteers had been working on the 2018 heads back before the pandemic started, and after a long break, 2018 is finally done. Many thanks to all the volunteers who made this possible, especially the 2021-2022 crew: Allen, Char, Elif, Laura, Luk, Marty, Mike, and Suzanne! Now, we have a lot of rechecking to do.

ACE progress update

So far this year, we have sadly not been able to have volunteers in the lab due to the continuing threat of COVID-19. However, over the last few months, we made quite a bit of progress on the remnant Echinacea harvests from 2020 and 2021. In the fall, we had help from volunteers, students from Lake Forest College, and externs from Carleton College. Thanks for your help! In January, Sophia finished cleaning the last head from 2021, which was an exciting accomplishment.

To track our progress in the lab, I created an R script to visualize the various steps of the ACE process for each batch of Echinacea. The figures for rem2020 and rem2021 are included here. Hopefully, this method will work for the cg harvests as well.

The ACE stages are listed along the x-axis, and the number of Echinacea heads are on the y-axis. The light blue shows how much we have completed, and the dark blue shows what remains to be done. The small numbers on each bar indicate the corresponding number of heads, and the width of the bars is roughly proportional to the amount of time each step takes. Along the top, the dates indicate the last day that the totals for each stage were updated.

The script to create these graphs can be found here: echinaceasandbox/oop/trackAceProgressTest.R

Volunteers and mystery bees

Visiting Minnesota to plant seeds last week was a welcome break from sitting at a desk all day. However, we were glad to be back in the lab this week. On Thursday, I finished the inventory of the remnant 2021 heads, so they are now ready to be cleaned by volunteers.

We have a great crew of volunteers this fall. Suzanne wins the award for the longest volunteer record; she has been helping the Echinacea Project since 1999! In contrast, Elif joined the lab in 2019 and is our newest volunteer. So far, all of the volunteers have been cleaning seed heads, an important early step in the ACE workflow. However, many of them specialize in other steps of the process such as quality control, scanning, randomization, weighing, x-raying, counting, or classifying. Once we have made a dent in the backlog of seed heads, the volunteers will be able to diversify and find the steps that they enjoy most.

Our other project this week was to clean out the freezer in the lab. The freezer mainly contained coolers of empty vials that were used to collect bees for the Yellow Pan Trap (YPT) project. As Mia and I sorted through the vials, we also discovered one cooler that still contained bees! Why were these bees collected? To what project do they belong? Why haven’t they been pinned like all the other bees? According to Detective Stuart, “We have a mystery to solve. First stage is to gather evidence. (Don’t disturb the scene of the crime.)” I followed Stuart’s instructions and returned the cooler to the freezer. After doing some sleuthing, I now suspect that vial GQ-9417 contains YPT specimens that were collected on 31 July 2019. The other vials, however, remain a mystery. If anyone can identify the suspects or has information about the day of the crime, 16 July 2019, please let me know.

Cupcakes and cleaning

On Monday, we welcomed back our second volunteer of the season, Marty. Marty is an expert on the scanner and x-ray, but since the new x-ray machine hasn’t arrived yet, she and Allen have been our rockstar head cleaners. So far, it has taken 22 person hours to clean 85 echinacea heads.  Based on these numbers, it will take an additional 56 hours to finish cleaning the 216 remaining heads in the 2020 burn rem batch that we’re currently working on.  If the volunteers continue to work at this rate, cleaning this batch would be completed by next Tuesday, October 26. In preparation for future head cleaning, we emptied out the seed dryer and refilled it with gbags from the 2021 harvest.

To celebrate several birthdays this month, Mia baked cupcakes for us! They were very chocolatey and delicious. We even made some new friends in the Plant Conservation Science Building by offering them cupcakes.

The Echinacea Project heads south

Last week, we wrapped up the last of the fieldwork in Minnesota, although four Liatris plants are taking their sweet time and weren’t ready to harvest on Friday. The remaining members of Team Echinacea packed their bags and headed to the Chicago Botanic Garden, with the exception of Jared, who is staying to monitor the stubborn Liatris. Previously, I had never been to the Garden before, so it’s been a fun place to explore. I’ve also enjoyed the elaborate Halloween decorations in the neighborhood.

This week at the Botanic Garden, we welcomed back Allen, our first volunteer since the beginning of the pandemic. It will be terrific to have some experienced volunteers to process the backlog of echinacea heads from the past several years.

At the lab, we’re also preparing for the seed addition experiment. Today, Wyatt trained us on the seed blower, a contraption that separates light achenes from heavy ones. The heavy (rich) achenes should contain seeds, and we will next randomize the rich achenes for planting this fall. We need 12,800 seeds for the experiment, and after several trials with the seed blower, we estimate that we should have enough.

Busy as a bee

This summer Shea and John continued our yellow pan trap project to sample the pollinator community found along roads in our study area in Minnesota. Today volunteer Mike Humphrey pinned the last bee from this summer’s collection!

Mike with the collection; next he’ll be consolidating these with Shea’s pinning from this summer to be sent off for ID at the University of Minnesota!

Mike received a surprise on his last day of the year; volunteer Char found a desiccated bee in one of the Echinacea heads she was cleaning! Mike reports it’s different from anything else we have in the collection this year, so a seriously cool find.

A majority of the bees in our 2019 collection are unremarkable Lasioglossums that we call “small black bees,” but we also get remarkably shiny blue and green bees in our traps!

Thanks for all your hard work Mike, and we’ll see you next year!

Potluck 2019 – Thank you, community scientists!

Last Thursday, we had our annual Team Echinacea potluck to honor the work of lab volunteers over the past year. Stuart discussed why what we do is so important and how the work of volunteers helps us to answer important scientific questions. Some great recent milestones accomplished by volunteers include:

Allen, Sam, and Anne reaching 500,000 achenes counted

All 2017 heads have been cleaned, rechecked, and scanned

670,000 achenes were counted and 113,000 achenes were classified in 2019 (so far)

In addition to a general overview of the Echinacea Project’s goals, members of the lab who have individual projects talked about what they are working on. These projects are: Erin’s remnant flowering intervals, Drake’s prairie parasites, Lea’s floral neighborhood, Elif’s congener ploidy project, and Riley’s prairie fragment crosses. It was really great to talk about research and hear about a number of projects.

Most importantly, though, I want to thank all people who volunteer their time to the lab. Without you, the cutting-edge science we do is impossible. Truly, you are making huge contributions to science and our understanding of plant reproductive fitness in anthropogenically fragmented landscapes. Your work is so appreciated, and we are so lucky to have you all around!

Oh, by the way, the food was absolutely wonderful. 11/10.

Team Echinacea IL!
Front (L to R): Drake, Lea, Erin, Stuart
Middle (L to R): Char, Shelley, Allen, Laura, Elif, Gretel
Back (L to R): Marty, Art, Tessa, Riley, Mike, Aldo
Folks eat and Stuart talks about an Echinacea Project paper.
Stuart tries to get a good angle on a photo of Riley and Aldo – photoception.
Lea, Elif, and Riley.
Stuart, Allen, Tessa, and Shelley. Shelley did not see that someone was taking a photo.
Laura, Erin, and Stuart.

All of these photos are courtesy of Ray, a volunteer in the photography group. Thank you very much, Ray!!