Using Arduino-Based Microclimate Sensors To Uncover Niche or Neutral Tendencies Of an Endangered Dune Thistle
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Pitcher's thistle (Cirsium pitcheri) is an imperiled monocarpic thistle endemic to the dunes of the Great Lakes region. Traditional approaches for researching endangered plant species are generally in three styled: range-based, natural history-based, or physiological-based. However, these methods are extremely niche-based, and a neutral, or dispersal-limited, approach may provide key insights into understanding how to protect Pitcher's thistle, and other endangered plants. My study approaches the issue by closely measuring differences in the microclimates of Pitcher's thistles where they are found on the dune using Arduino-based sensors. These sensors accumulated large amounts of environmental data and in conjunction with other, more traditional, environmental factors, I was able to establish an individual plant's microclimate. Combining these environmental factors and closely monitoring the growth of each plant allows for comparisons to reveal which environmental factors play a strong role in the fitness of Pitcher's thistle. While Pitcher's thistle has been generally considered to prefer the hot, dry microclimate of the foredune as opposed to the wetter, cooler swale, my work suggests that Pitcher's thistle may not have a strong preference between the two. Thus, my study supports the idea that a neutral, or dispersal-based, perspective should be taken into consideration when studying endangered species.