The Month of June’s Work for Milkweed Pollination

The month of June has been nothing but frantic.  For the first three weeks of June, I was out in the field for the majority of the day.  While I was there, we had multiple protocols in action at the same time.  Most of the day was spent doing pollinator observations and video recordings.  For each pollinator observation, I started with a fresh, unopened umbel.  I bagged them to prevent premature pollination.  Once the umbels had opened, which usually took about two to three days, we could begin the observation.  I would record information about the milkweed itself (its height, location, and proximity to other milkweed) and the focal umbel (number of flowers, location on the plant, color of flowers).  I would then take off the bag, and distance myself about ten meters away from the plant and started the stopwatch.  I would wait 30 minutes, recording each pollinator’s arrival and departure time.  For the first five visitors to the umbel, I paused the watch and counted all the pollinia that had inserted and removed.  After the thirty minutes was up, I moved onto the next umbel.  The purpose of these pollinator observations is to quantify how efficient pollinators of milkweed are by using pollinia transfer efficiency (PTE), which is the ratio of pollinia inserted to pollinia removed.  Since I had data for the number of pollinia inserted and removed, I will be able to determine PTE for the different pollinators that we have observed.

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Early June Update (A Little Late)

Our experiment on milkweed pollination needed to start quickly.  Since we needed fresh blooms to quantify both longhorned milkweed beetle and general pollination, our research group needed to get to our transects out in Blandy Experimental Farm and Arboretum before any milkweed blooms.  The common milkweed starts to bloom in early June, so everything had to be ready before then.  Along with graduate student Nicki, who is running this project, another undergraduate assistant, Angelica, and I rushed to prepare all the tools and equipment we would need.  We got the lab and the greenhouse cleaned and organized, including a painstaking power-wash of the greenhouse floor.  We collected all the supplies needed, including our flag markers, binoculars, and pollination bags to protect the flowers (made by me over summer break).  When everything was collected, we woke up bright and early to head up to Blandy.

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Repotting, Re-PCRing, and the War for the Greenhouse

Life has been hectic since returning to campus for summer research. I dove back into work with a massive repotting of my milkweed. My project requires two stems of milkweed in every pot—on one stem I will simulate insect herbivory, and I will measure cardenolide levels in both to determine whether chemical defense signals are shared through root systems. Splitting and repotting milkweed is an all-day event, mostly because by the end of it you’ll be too dirty and exhausted to want to do anything else. Milkweed naturally occurs in fields and prairies, where plants send out sprawling root networks that take up water and nutrients and anchor the plants so they can grow as tall as over two meters. Though our plants in the greenhouse never grow that tall, their roots still try, and milkweed pots are crammed with tangled and gnarled knots of them. My labmates pitched in to help me out on repotting day, which I will always be thankful for, considering what a huge and messy task it was! We shook out gallons of loose dirt and chisel away more from the roots, so we could trace roots to see which stems are closely collected and can become a pair in its own pot. We do all this while trying not to snap the delicate stems, which grow to about two to three feet in the ISC. By the end of the day, we were all covered head to toe in potting soil, as were the floors of the greenhouse, which we bleached and scrubbed.

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Milkweed Connectedness Update 1:

My original plan was to use common Milkweed as a study system to understand the impact of clonality and group survival. By intentionally adding a pathogen, such as an herbicide, the spread of the negative effects can be witnessed in a clonally connected plant. The goal of this experiment is to see how far the pathogens travel in a patch, how long it takes for other plants to die, and if there is any preferential sharing. For instance, sometimes younger plants are favored in sharing. Herbicide will be used as a proxy for connectedness and physiological integration. 

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Herbicide Transfer through Clonal Milkweed

In this study I propose to use common Milkweed as a study system to understand the impact of clonality and group survival. By intentionally adding a pathogen, such as an herbicide, the spread of the negative effects can be witnessed in a clonally connected plant. The goal of this experiment is to see how far the pathogens travel in a patch, how long it takes for other plants to die, and if there is any preferential sharing.

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