The ecology of urban and suburban landscapes remains relatively unexplored - although such habitats have great potential to positively contribute to the conservation of pollinators, parasitoids and the ecosystem services that they confer.
Working with the OSU Extension Master Gardeners, OSU graduate students, state and local agencies, as well as non-profits and other non-governmental organizations, I am helping to develop a better research-based understanding of how to design and sustainably manage gardens and parks to maximize ecosystem services. My Extension and Outreach efforts are focused on communicating these and other research-backed management practices to home gardeners, commercial landscapers, and others.
My overall research interests are in developing a better understanding of how gardens and greenspaces can be designed and managed so that they contribute to rather than detract from ecosystem services. I am particularly interested in the services of pollination and biological control in gardens and other greenspaces.
I have broad interests in the community ecology of insects, and have previously studied: cannibalism in wolf spiders, facultative hyperparasitism in parasitoid wasps and the use of stable isotopes to infer arthropod community interactions. Currently, my research focuses on investigations into the potential of developed landscapes (i.e. urbanized areas) to conserve beneficial insects, such as pollinators and natural enemies. In addition, I am interested in quantifying the ecosystem services of pollination and biological control within urban areas. The success of these investigations hinges on the support and active involvement of various stakeholders, such as private homeowners and nursery/landscape professionals. Thus, outreach, extension and education are inherently coupled with my research program.
Due to the decline of the European honey bee, coupled with an increased awareness of the utility and necessity of alternative pollinators in agricultural and natural systems, several federal and non-profit organizations promote the protection of native pollinators and the ecosystem service of pollination that they provide. The importance of private homeowners and nursery/landscape professionals to the conservation of insect pollinators is recognized by non-profit organizations such as the Xerxes Society and federal agencies such as EPA and USDA. All of these agencies have highlighted the contributions that private individuals and the landscaping industry can make to pollinator conservation efforts. Given that much of the land in the United States is privately owned, it is wise to consider the role that the general public can play in conserving ecosystem services.
That ecosystem services can be conserved in developed landscapes may seem counterintuitive, since the prevalence of suburban and urban neighborhoods in many areas of the United States has generally had adverse affects on biodiversity. However, the proliferation of ornamental, flowering plants within urban/suburban gardens and parks suggests that these habitats may provide beneficial resources to native pollinators. A diversity of nectar-producing flowering plants can be found in many urban gardens and parks. The abundance and diversity of these plants may promote a diverse and abundant pollinator assemblage. Furthermore, urban planners may be able to contribute to the conservation of insect pollinators by incorporating more greenspace (i.e. urban parks and gardens) into developed landscapes. Because many bees nest in the ground or in cavities, such as hollow twigs and stems, an increase in greenspace may increase nest site availability for bees.
Ultimately, it is my intention to pursue a greater understanding of how developed landscapes may influence the ecosystem service of pollination. A more abundant and diverse pollinator community in the local area of a garden doesn’t necessarily translate into increased fruit/vegetable yield in gardens and improved native plant fitness in the vicinity of gardens. In fact, the extreme diversity of plants grown in gardens and parks may dilute the visitation of insect pollinators to plants that are grown by gardeners for the fruits and vegetables that they yield. Future research will focus on developing an understanding of how different garden configurations may impact fruit/vegetable yield, and how gardens may impact the fitness of native plants in adjacent habitats.