Sometimes your best isn’t good enough

This morning Priti and I learned how to use the computer to count scanned achenes. I found counting to be a much smoother process than cleaning and, in a couple of hours, had counted over 5,000 achenes. An average Echinacea head produces about 150 achenes. The number of achenes a head produces is a pretty good indicator of what is called “reproductive effort”, the energy expended in the pursuit of reproduction. Sadly, a harsh reality of life is that reproductive effort doesn’t always translate into reproductive success. A much better predictor of fitness is seed set or achene viability, however this is difficult to find without splitting open every single achene. However here at the Echinacea Project they have quite the clever work around, X-Rays! Each sample of achenes are randomized and those fruits that make it through are collected into sheets of 20 samples and doused with low, completely safe levels of white-hot X-radiation. The X-ray images are fed into a computer program which allows researchers (like me!) to see inside and classify them by the fullness of their embryo (Empty, Full, or Partial). This provides a stronger indicator for the fitness of the individual plant. The coming week I am excited to learn more about what affects Echinacea seed set or reproductive success.

Maybe the fittest plants are those who avoid collection

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