Summer Field Researcher 2013

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Are you interested in gaining field research experience and learning about the ecology and evolution of plants in fragmented prairie habitat? If you are, then this might be the opportunity you are looking for!

The Echinacea Project is looking for interested and enthusiastic summer field researchers for the 2013 summer field season. Our project investigates how small population size and reduced genetic diversity influence individual fitness, population demographics, plant-insect interactions and evolution in the purple coneflower Echinacea angustifolia. This is a great internship or summer co-op for aspiring ecologists, conservation biologists, and evolutionary biologists!

Qualifications: College student or recent graduate, wants to work outdoors, is patient, has good hand-eye coordination and fine motor skill, willing to work hard even in inclement or hot conditions, and interested in ecological research. No experience is necessary, but you must be enthusiastic and hard-working.

Dates: The main field season runs from June to the last half of August. We will have one or two positions that will extend to early October. The exact start and end dates are negotiable.

Money: There is a $440/week stipend and housing is supplied.

Laura taking data

Laura taking data on seedling survival

Job Description

The main research project is to determine evolutionary and ecological consequences of habitat fragmentation on purple coneflower, a beautiful and relatively common prairie flower. The research site is in western Minnesota. Stuart Wagenius is the field supervisor.

The narrow-leaved purple coneflower, Echinacea angustifolia, grows in the former tallgrass prairie and plains of North America, a habitat now fragmented by human activities such as agriculture, development, and roads. Echinacea now exists in isolated populations of various size. We know that seed production in isolated plants is limited by pollination and that genetic diversity is lower in small populations compared to large populations. We still don’t know the long-term consequences of reduced seed set, low-fitness seedlings, and reduced genetic diversity on the persistence of these populations.

During this summer, we will systematically map over 2000 plants in natural populations that have been observed for the past fourteen years to compare the fecundity and mortality of plants in small and large populations. For another ongoing project, we will measure growth, flowering, and fitness traits of plants growing in research plots. The goal of this project is to estimate the genetic and environmental influences on Echinacea plants originating from small and large remnant populations. In addition to measuring plants and collecting data, we will maintain plots by mowing and weeding.

You will gain skills in identifying plants, surveying natural plant populations, measuring plant traits in experimental plots, hand-pollinating plants, and observing & collecting insects. You will learn many techniques for experimental field work in plant ecology, genetics, and plant-insect interactions. Specific skills you may gain include collecting seed, surveying and GPS techniques, artificially pollinating flowers, identifying insects, mapping plants, characterizing communities, gaining appreciation for long-term experiments, and working as part of a team.

Living: The study area is a rural agricultural community. The closest towns are Kensington (56343) and Hoffman (56339), MN. Alexandria, a larger town with a movie theater, is 20 miles away. In Solem township there are dirt roads, a highway, railroad tracks, wetlands, and lots of corn and soybeans. There are prairie remnants scattered throughout the township. You’ll live in a house with basic amenities and basketball hoop. You’ll share the common area with other team members, but you’ll have your own space and a bed. Usually we’ll eat lunch together at our base station.

Rachel mapping seedlings

Rachel mapping seedlings

How to apply

Ask yourself if you love being outdoors, if you are patient, if you can work independently, if you are willing to work hard in adverse conditions, and if you could be enthusiastic about this job. If you answer yes to these questions and you still want the job, please apply. Your application should include:

  • a cover letter, including the following…
    • why you’re interested
    • what your future plans are
    • when you can start and end
    • whether you are interested in an independent project
    • who will serve as your references
    • your email and phone number
  • your resume
  • your transcript (unofficial OK)
  • one letter of recommendation (sent by recommender)

Send your application via email to by 28 February 2013.

Students who are now and will be undergraduates in Fall 2013, should consider an REU internship.

Review of applications will begin on 28 February 2013. We’ll accept applications until positions are filled. Be sure to include an email address and phone number where you can be reached during March.

Members of groups underrepresented in science are particularly encouraged to apply.

Team Echinacea 2006

Team Echinacea 2006: Andrea, Christina, Jennifer, Rachel, Aki, Rachel, Laura, Gretel (L – R)

More information

If you have any questions, contact Stuart via e-mail or phone (847-835-6978).

Go to the Echinacea Project’s homepage to read more about this NSF-funded project. You can also read about this project’s background and papers.

Photos of recent summer field researchers