Tag Archives: urban ecology

Swale

Swale is a public food forest on a barge in New York City. Here’s what they’re growing:

Swale’s plant community is made up of perennial native fruit trees and shrubs, leafy self-seeding annuals and salt loving grasses. Our model for landscape design is inspired by edible forestry,  permaculture, and salt-tolerant estuary ecosystems. Our plants have come from many generous donations from Greenbelt Native Plant Center, the New York City Parks Department and Visitors onboard! Our plant list is always expanding. Want to bring a plant onboard Swale? Let us know!

Here’s what’s currently onboard:

Canopy
Beach Plum, Black Chokeberry, Black Tupelo, Black willow, ‘Enterprise’ Apple, ‘Goldrush’ Apple, Fuyu Persimmon, Goji Berry, Hawthorn, Italian Alder, Newtown Pippin Apple (native to Queens NY!), Liberty Apple, ‘Northern Spy’ Apple, Northline Serviceberry, Pitch pine, Red Chokeberry, Sweetbay Magnolia

Shrub
American Red Raspberry, Arkansas Blackberry, Blue Ridge Blueberry, Dogbane, Eastern Juniper, False Indigo, Flame Willow, Golden Curls Willow, Gooseberry, Missouri River Willow, Northern Highbush Blueberry, Pennsylvania Blackberry, Red Stem Dogwood, Rosemary, Sassafras, Triple Crown Blackberry, Winterberry

Herbaceous
Asparagus, American, Blackgrass, Black eyed Susan, Buck’s Horn Plantain, Bugleweed, Anise Hyssop, Aster (New England), Bee Balm, Black Eyed Susan, Borage, Comfrey, Dandelion, Daylily, Echinacea, Evening primrose, French Sorrel, Garlic Chives, Goldenrod, Ground Cherry, Hopi Red Dye Amaranth, Lavender, Lemon Balm, Lettuce, Lovage, Meadowsweet, Milkweed, Miners Lettuce, Oregano, Peppermint, Perpetual Swiss Chard, Red Mustard, Red Russian Kale, Roman Chamomile, Rosemallow, Scallion, Saltgrass, Saltmeadow rush, Sea pea, Shore little bluestem, Spotted Joe Pye Weed, Stinging Nettle, Swamp Goldenrod, Sylvetta Arugula, Tansy, Virginia mountain mint, White Avens, Wild leek, Whorled mountain mint, Yarrow

Ground Cover
Creeping Thyme, Creeping raspberry, Golden oregano, Purslane, Strawberries, White Clover, Wild Low bush blueberry

Rhizosphere
Adam’s yucca, Groundnut, Jerusalem Artichoke, Walking Onion, Wild Yam

Vertical Layer
Clematis, Grapes, Hardy Kiwi, Hops, Scarlet runner beans

wildlife resilience and urban parks

This article suggests that urban parks are not as good as rural reserves for supporting biodiversity, but they can still play a role in improving the resilience of species. Of particular interest to me are some the measures ecologists are coming up with to try to define and measure resilience.

Urban parks can maintain minimal resilience for Neotropical bird communities

Birds may use urban parks as shelter and refuge, contributing with numerous ecosystem services upon which humans and other organisms depend on. To safeguard these services, it is important that bird communities of urban environments hold some degree of resilience, which refers to the capacity of a system to absorb disturbances and changes, while maintaining its functions and structures. Here we assessed the resilience of the bird community inhabiting an urban park in the Southeast region of Brazil. We classified birds in feeding guilds and identified discontinuities and aggregations of body masses (i.e., scales) using hierarchical cluster analysis. We then calculated five resilience indices for our urban park and for a preserved continuous forest (reference area): the average richness of functions, diversity of functions, evenness of functions, and redundancy of functions within- and cross-scale. The urban park had less species, lower feeding guild richness, and lower within-scale redundancy than the reference area. However, they had similar proportion of species in each function, diversity of functions, evenness of functions, and cross-scale redundancy. The lower species richness and, consequently, the lack of some species performing some ecological functions may be responsible for the overall lower resilience in the urban park. Our results suggest that the bird community of the urban park is in part resilient, as it maintained many biological functions, indicating some environmental quality despite the high anthropogenic impacts of this area. We believe that urban forest remnants with more complex and diverse vegetation are possibly more likely to maintain higher resilience in the landscape than open field parks or parks with suppressed or altered vegetation. We propose that raising resilience in the urban park would possibly involve increasing vegetation complexity and heterogeneity, which could increase biodiversity in a large scale.

June 2017 in Review

Most frightening stories:

  • The Onion shared this uncharacteristically unfunny observation: “MYTH: There is nothing mankind can do to prevent climate change. FACT: There is nothing mankind will do to prevent climate change”. It’s not funny because it’s probably true.
  • Water-related hazards including flood, drought, and disease have significant effects on economic growth.
  • There were 910 deaths from drug overdose in Philadelphia last year. Interestingly, I started writing a post thinking I might compare that to car accidents, and ended up concluding that the lack of a functioning health care system might be our #1 problem in the U.S.

Most hopeful stories:

Most interesting stories, that were not particularly frightening or hopeful, or perhaps were a mixture of both:

  • Tile is a sort of wireless keychain that can help you find your keys, wallet, and those other pesky things you are always misplacing (or your significant other is moving, but won’t admit it).
  • Fleur de lawn” is a mix of perennial rye, hard fescue, micro clover, yarrow, Achillea millefolium, sweet alyssum, Lobularia maritima, baby blue eyes, Nemophila menziesi, English daisy, Bellis perennis, and O’Connor’s strawberry clover, Trifolium fragiferum.
  • Traditional car companies are actually leading the pack in self-driving car development, by some measures.

pets and ecological footprint

This article from Alternet asks which pets are the most environmentally friendly. Their conclusion: chickens, ducks, goats, and rabbits. This makes sense, although keeping these in an urban environment could be impractical unless we are going to do it on a communal basis (actually not a bad idea). Dogs and cats are a mixed bag. I have mixed feelings – I think in our highly industrialized, urbanized modern lives that are so unnatural to begin with, pets give us some sense of connection to nature and the natural environment that would otherwise be missing. That they prime our immune systems to some mildly threatening pathogens and allergens could actually be a good thing, particularly for children. I don’t like the idea of cats killing birds, although if the area weren’t industrialized and urbanized there would probably be all kinds of predators going after the birds. There would also be a lot more birds, of course.

I have always wondered about the ecological impact and ethics of keeping semi-domesticated animals that occur naturally in the local environment, or would if it hadn’t been industrialized and urbanized. Collecting them in the wild is clearly wrong in my view, but if they are bred domestically and kept in humane conditions, it doesn’t seem bad at all. I’m thinking small native snakes, turtles, and fish in particular. Even insects and spiders if you are into that sort of thing. Beekeeping is a cool hobby if you have the interest and time. Granted, none of these are furry or cuddly. If you have some outdoor space, I wonder if keeping a semi-domesticated raccoon or de-scented skunk is really that bad. These animals would be around anyway. I don’t like the idea of confining birds at all. They are so easy to attract and enjoy in their wild condition. Butterflies and other pollinators are also easy to attract and fun to watch. For that matter, plants are kind of fun to watch, if you ask me. Watching plants grow forces you to slow your body and mind down to their speed for a few minutes each day, and if you do that for a few minutes each day, the way they grow and change and interact with each other and the environment is really fascinating over the course of the growing season.

clean water is not enough

This article presents evidence for the expected trend in biodiversity of riparian areas (whether lake, river, stream, etc. I can’t tell from the abstract) in response to urbanization. Large water features might be the one piece of the landscape that urban development has trouble erasing. But by changing the nature of the shoreline and adjacent habitat, you would expect a degradation in ecosystem quality, even if the water quality itself is perfectly fine (which it often is not, of course). The question is, could you design a shoreline and adjacent city that would support a significant fraction of the biodiversity and ecosystem function that was once there? In other words, a smaller nature that is still healthy? Or should we write off the idea of a high-functioning urban ecosystem and focus on protecting more wild areas? Well, I don’t know but I can guarantee that not making a serious attempt at either one will not lead to a good outcome.

Decadal declines in bird abundance and diversity in urban riparian zones, Landscape and Urban Planning, Volume 159, March 2017, Pages 48–61

Urbanization is frequently cited as a major driver of species losses worldwide; however, most studies in urban areas use a space-for-time substitution approach to document effects of urbanization through time. Ultimately, understanding the effects of urbanization on biodiversity requires long-term datasets. We examined long-term changes in bird assemblages at 12 riparian sites in the greater Phoenix metropolitan area and nearby Sonoran Desert region, featuring a range of human modifications and levels of water flow. Riparian areas in arid cities represent a key habitat type that is sensitive to human modification and supports high levels of species diversity. We used long-term data to: (1) explore variation in bird communities as a function of water permanence and degree of human-modification; (2) identify which environmental variables best describe differences found across riparian site types; and (3) assess how riparian bird communities, abundance, and species richness have changed through time. Engineered riparian sites supported more broadly distributed generalists; whereas, natural riparian sites supported more specialists. Sites with perennial flows had more vegetation and water compared to ephemeral sites and engineered sites had more impervious surface compared to natural sites. In nearly all comparisons, bird species richness, diversity, and abundance declined across riparian types during the period of study, even for common species. Bird communities in natural settings have changed more than communities at engineered sites. Overall, the riparian bird community is shifting toward urban dwelling, resident species that are characteristic of riparian sites with less water and more impervious surface.

July 2016 in Review

3 most frightening stories

  • The financial crisis triggered by U.S. banks in 2008 may have been a major factor behind a resurgence of right-wing politics in Europe.
  • Household chemicals may have adverse effects on the developing brain, including a contribution to the risk of “neurodevelopmental disorders that affect the brain and nervous system including autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, intellectual disabilities, and other learning and behavioral disabilities”.
  • The CIA is just not that good at spying.

3 most hopeful stories

  • There are new tools for considering ecosystem services and biodiversity in development decisions.
  • Uber Pool could be a game changing technology that ushers in a new kind of flexible transportation system.
  • The problems of a civilization in overshoot can seem overwhelming, but one thing you can do is convert your lawn to a sustainable ecosystem. Moss is an option. Also related to this, some ecologists are paying more attention to soil.

3 most interesting stories

  • I was a little side-tracked by U.S. Presidential politics. Nate Silver launched his general election site, putting the odds about 80-20 in favor of Hillary at the beginning of the month. The odds swung toward Trump over the course of the month as the two major party conventions took place (one in my backyard), but by the end of the month they were back to about 70-30 in favor of Hillary. During the month I mused about NAFTA, the fall of the Republic, the banana republicThe Art of the Deal, how to debate Trump, and Jon Stewart,
  • It’s really okay to cook pork chops medium rare.
  • It’s really hard to predict earthquakes. Many scientists think it is impossible, but once upon a time they thought that about predicting weather.

ecological landscaping

I recent linked to an article by Odum on ecological landscaping, or sustainable gardening, or whatever you want to call it. Her article linked to a number of other articles in the mainstream press. These are the articles I would share with friends and neighbors if they were to express an interest (or quite possibly, skepticism) about my own gardening methods. I’ll grab an interesting paragraph from each. The articles also have lots of interesting pictures and links to even more articles.
“Outgrowing the Traditional Grass Lawn” from Scientific American

Experimenting with alternatives to grass lawns does not require banishing turfgrass altogether, however. As Smith’s research underscores, turfgrass has a useful property not easily matched by other plants: its impressive material resilience. Grass tolerates a lot of trampling without dying and will spring back when compressed by cleats and lounging people’s backsides. Some scientists are currently focusing on how to make regions of private lawns and public green spaces more attractive to native pollinators, without uprooting a lawn altogether. Emily Dobbs of the University of Kentucky and her colleagues visit golf courses in the state and persuade the managers to transform some out of the way spots into wild habitat by planting a mix of perennial, native, low-maintenance wildflowers that bloom from April to October—coneflowers, columbines, black-eyed susans, clover, hyssop, and goldenrod, for example. The owners of five golf courses, including one belonging to Marriott Hotels and Resorts, have agreed so far—and the results are astounding.

“What is Sustainable Landscaping?” from Daily Kos

A landscape based on a small palette of non-native species supports less than 10% of the insect species needed to sustain native birds (Bringing Nature Home). Replacing these landscapes with a diversity of native trees, shrubs, grasses and wildflowers supports the hundreds of species of native insects needed to sustain birds and other organisms such as frogs, toads, lizards, and bats, which help control annoying or dangerous insects such as flies and mosquitoes.  It also links together an increasingly fragmented landscape that isolates natural areas between areas of biological desert.

“It’s come to this, yards are the next frontier of conservation” from Fusion

Native plants boost insect populations significantly, Louderman said.

“In your backyard, if you have just a lawn and non-native plants, you’d find just about a dozen species of native insects. If you have native plants, you can usually find hundreds of almost all native and beneficial insects,” Louderman said.

These are not bad or dangerous insects, Louderman pointed out. In fact, the honeybee is the only one that might sting a human.