Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Tuesday at the 100th Meeting of the Ecological Society of America

I moved between a few different sessions on Tuesday, August 11, 2015 at #ESA 100.  There were so many great urban ecology research talks to choose from, many of which have direct applications to how we build and manage gardens and other urban or suburban greenspaces.  A few highlights are below.

OOS13 - New Perspectives for Ecology during the Anthropocene: new paradigms, technologies and collaborations

#3:  Friedman et al. 'Modeling qualitative social data: collaborative approaches for and continuing challenges to crossing the qualitative-quantitative divide':  I sat in on this talk, because I am in the midst of my own qualitative-quantitative data divide.  Qualitative data includes the stories or narratives that people tell to researchers.  Quantitative data includes numbers and statistics.  I'm much more comfortable working with quantitative data, but I'm working on a project where the principle investigator works primarily with qualitative data.  Coming to a common understanding how to approach research questions, gather data and build analytical models has been a chore!  I was hoping that this talk would give me some tips for how to cross a disciplinary divide, so that we can maximize the impact of our project.  Friedman is an anthropologist and a researcher at the Center for Applied Social Research at the University of Oklahoma.  He presented a case study from one of his interdisciplinary projects, where the narratives (qualitative data) were used to identify the variables that should be quantified to build an explanatory model.  For complex problems or issues, where the outcome is the result of many factors (e.g. childhood obesity, water levels in reservoirs, urban pollution) ~ this can help to efficiently and specifically target research efforts to factors that are most meaningful to the people who are living and experiencing the problems that are being studied.

#8:  Ellis 'Ecology in an anthropogenic biosphere: new tools for anthropocene ecologists':  this talk presented an overview of Ellis' recent paper in Ecological Monographs.  Ellis argues that humans have transformed ecological relationships, and that sociocultural niche construction has played an important role in the development of human societies, but has also been responsible for the transformation of the biosphere.  Ultimately, Ellis argues that to study ecology, we need to understand and study human socio-cultural processes.  As an urban ecologist, I loved this presentation.  Ecology divorced from human culture, social interactions and behavior is missing a huge piece of the picture.  I'm thrilled to see more and more ecologists arguing for a truly integrated socio-ecological approach to the study of nature.  A few things that stuck with me from Ellis' talk:

  • Darwin was the first to note that culture evolves faster than genomes.  Ellis cited BronyCon (which was sharing convention space with ESA) as an example of this phenomenon.  
  • The term for anthropogenic biomes is anthromes.  This was a new term for me.

OOS19 - Green Roof Biodiversity and the Food Web

#5:  Snodgrass 'Plant selection on ecological green roofs'.  Snodgrass runs a commercial nursery that specializes in green roof plants ~ the only nursery in the United States to do so!  He's also written two Timber Press Books on green roofs, and consults on green roof projects around the United States.  Things that stuck with me from Snodgrass' talk:

  • from a design point of view, it's important to decide if you want your green roof to function as a garden (e.g. looks beautiful), or to function as a machine (e.g. filters water or insulates a building).  That decision will guide your design choices.
  • successful green roof plants often come from pioneer communities whose succession is arrested or halted, because of poor growing conditions that inhibit other species.  Successful green roof plants tend to be specialists, and not generalists.
  • green roof media reaches its wilting point 48 hours after a rain event.  So, green roof plants must be able to tolerate going from flood to drought conditions in a short period of time.
  • can you grow vegetables on a green roof?  You can, but is it a good idea?  Vegetables need nutrients, and what will you do with the nutrients coming off of the roof?  You should also measure deposition of atmospheric pollutants that land on the roof, to determine if it is a safe site to grow food.

OOS32 - Contributions of Urban Agriculture to the Urban Ecosystem

#1 Harada: 'Biogeochemistry of the Brooklyn grange, and urban rooftop farm'.  The Brooklyn Grange is a 0.6 ha farm on top of an 11-story building that used to be part of the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  I felt lucky to hear this talk, immediately after Snodgrass' talk in another session.  Since Snodgrass asked 'what do you do with all of the nutrients coming off of the roof?', I wanted to hear what Harada and colleagues found.  Indeed. they documented that an urban rooftop farm is a 'leaky' system.  You apply a lot of water, and a lot of water comes off of the roof.  You apply a lot of fertilizer (in the form or compost and other organic nutrients), and a lot of nitrogen comes off of the roof.  The Brooklyn Grange has a ton of potential as a demonstration of successful urban farming, but it will be interesting to hear how the farm managers respond to the data that shows that a lot of nitrogen is coming off of the roof, and flowing directly into local waterways.  If urban, rooftop farming is going to be a sustainable practice ~ we need to do a better job managing water loss and nutrient leaching.

#6, MacIvor and Packer 'Bee hotels to enhance native pollinators: a premature verdict?'.  This talk examined the efficacy of bee hotels for attracting native pollinators.  The full methods and data are accessible in this PLOS paper.  Highlights:

  • you'll find more wasps than bees in a 'bee' hotel
  • perhaps we should stop calling them 'bee' hotels and instead call them biodiversity hotels, because these structures provide habitat for more than just bees
  • only ~ 30% of all bees nest in cavities, such as those provided by bee hotels.  If we're really serious about conserving bees, we need to look to the ground . . . since the vast majority of native bees are ground nesters.  This last point has tie-ins to my own research, which I presented on the last day of the meeting.


  1. I'm not surprised to hear that bee hotels attract wasps. That has been my experience with my "insect hotel". But there are many native bees using it, too, as well as spiders and who knows what else? It is very interesting to watch a spider stalk a wasp which is carrying a katydid as larva food...

  2. Sealing your food from air and the decay of the environment greatly extends the longevity of your food. This is a motorized machine and although a magnificent tool there are other avenues not electrical in nature. For more food growing articles, you can check out


Comments or questions about this post?