Measuring the Benefits of Ecosystem-Modeling: Research Begins!

Figure 1. View south into Center for Urban Habitat’s ecosystem installation at the IX Art Park.

accomplished 3 years of ecosystem installations
in the Charlottesville area, Center
for Urban Habitats (CUH) is now beginning research to measure the impacts of
ecosystem-modeling. While attempting to install entire ecosystems has obvious
benefits for supporting biodiversity, very little is understood about the
extent or quality of those benefits within the urban context. While it is true
that with each transformation we see dramatic increases in native animal
species, we have not actually quantified those changes. It may seem obvious
that removing a monoculture such as turf lawn and replacing it with a native
plant community would help pollinators and other native wildlife. But, what is
the actuality of change? How much change is there? What kind of changes do we
see? How might local biodiversity benefit if we convert 10% of Charlottesville’s
surface area to Ecosystem-modeled Habitat? What would that take?

Figure 2. Students locating 1.5m x 1.5m research plots among the goldenrods, thoroughworts, and mountainmints of the Piedmont Prairie portion of the ecosystem.
Armed with these research questions, CUH has made this project an education
opportunity by partnering with the Renaissance School of Charlottesville. The
first phase will focus on research at CUH’s ecosystem installation at the IX Art
Park in Charlottesville, Virginia.
A group of Renaissance
School students, under the guidance of Ann Minutella, Science Teacher, and
Becky Wilbur, Dean of Academics, Mathematics Teacher and Researcher at University
of Virginia’s Mountain Lake Biological Station, will begin a 1 year
investigation of the real impacts of using CUH’s ecosystem-modeling methods for landscape
design in urban areas.
Today, we braved a chilly and breezy morning, with rain
approaching from the south, to get the ball rolling. We used random selection
to spread 10 test plots throughout the 8,000 sq. foot installation. Each plot
will be 1.5m x 1.5m in size. 5 plots were located within the ecosystem
installation in areas that are fully planted and established. 5 more plots were
located in areas outside of the ecosystem installation. An eleventh plot will
be located in an area that was abandoned and allow to self-seed and grow. With
this plot we hope to begin asking questions about the impacts our installations
have on areas nearby.
Figure 3. Students locating 1.5m x 1.5m research control plots in areas not converted to native ecosystems. The differences between the species variety and richness between the two plot types should be significant.

Stay tuned for updates! The students are further
refining and documenting their methodology. Habitat structure, soil chemistry,
soil drainage, and other site-based components will be measured over winter.
Animal counts, including birds, insects, amphibians, reptiles, spiders and
more, will begin in late winter/early spring.
Thank you Renaissance School of Charlottesville for helping us launch this important endeavor!
Last, but certainly not least, thank you Eric Anderson, CUH Education Coordinator (and Director of the International School of Charlottesville) for connecting CUH with the Renaissance School to bring this research project from “idea” to Action. Eric has been coordinating volunteer efforts at the IX ecosystem installation for about a year, helping us reach hundreds of youth and adults alike with an important message: Ecosystem-modeling is a beautiful process that brings forth the powerful, and sometimes hidden, potential of nature. 

Devin Floyd,
Center for
Urban Habitats