Summer Summary

Now that my summer research has ended, I’m realizing just how much I have left to do on this project.  I’m still a very long way from a publishable result.  I spent more time this summer working on the Asclepias syriaca and Asclepias exaltata hybrid project than I did on my original historical milkweed project.  The historical project was to look at how the ranges and abundances of a variety of milkweed species have changed over the past hundred years.  I spent the first couple of weeks working on this project before shifting to focus on the hybrid project.  Both projects are still in their early stages and I will be continuing to work on both over the course of the school year.  I’m hoping to produce some results that can be included in upcoming publications from the Puzey lab.  Now that I’m a senior, the pressure is on to wrap up my projects.

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Week 7: quiet lab

This week Dr. Puzey and two students went to Botany 2019 in Tucson, Arizona.  Caroline (our grad student), and Cici both presented some of their work on mimulus petal spot formation.  This left only Lizzie and I to hold down the fort in lab.  Because we both sometimes use other spaces in the ISC at times, we each had some very quiet days alone in the lab.  This week I continued to work on analyzing my data using R.  I focused on creating maps of the data.  I started with a basic map of the lower 48 states.  Then, I added points to mark each location that we had latitude and longitude data from our plant specimens.  Unfortunately, we only had this data for a minority of the specimens so my map ended up looking a little sparse.  Once the rest of the data collection is finished, we may go back through the specimens and georeference them to the county level.  I color coded the data so that syriaca points and exaltata points were different colors.  This doesn’t tell us very much so far, but with more data we may find patterns.

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Week 6: making graphs

I have made some progress with R, mostly because of one particularly helpful site called “Cookbook for R” that had good examples of how to make plots in R.  In particular I had been struggling with making a plot that showed the number of similar observations.  I could easily graph each individual observation independently, but it didn’t tell me anything new.  I could also graph the number of similar observations as a histogram.  This was somewhat useful but what I really wanted to produce was a line graph that showed me the distribution of my data.  My PI showed me a page on Cookbook for R that had detailed examples of how to produce the graphs that I wanted.  It was easy to modify the code to suit my data.  There were even options for making the graphs prettier or adding keys and lines to show the means.

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Week 5: gradual progress

Research has been moving slowly as I get up to speed in R programming.  I feel very slow sometimes when it takes me a half hour of googling and reading Stack Overflow to figure a simple problem.  I’m grateful to my labmates, many of whom can code, for their advice.  For example, I would never have figured out that my code wouldn’t run because R wasn’t reading reading my data as numbers.  I would never have guessed that it was even an option for R to read what I thought were numbers as non numeric characters.

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Week 4: side project

This week, a tangent was added on to my main research project.  The main idea is that closely related milkweed species can and do hybridize with each other.  The two species we are focusing on for this side project are Asclepias syriaca, common milkweed, and Asclepias exaltata, poke milkweed.  These two species prefer different conditions, but often grow close enough together to cross pollinate.  A. exaltata prefers more water and partial sun while A. syriaca is drought tolerant and prefers full sun.  This means that A. exaltata is often found at forest edges and A. syriaca is most common in fields.  You can probably think of many examples of places that these two habitats border each other.  In theory, a hybrid between A. syriaca and A. exaltata would have a blend of traits from each parental species.  In a time of declining forest habitat and changing climate, hybrid species may have the best of both worlds.  Plants may be able to gain favorable characteristics to tolerate changing conditions far more quickly than animals due to their ability to hybridize.

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