Monday, July 16, 2018

Rooftop Gardens

Posted by Richard B. Primack

Why not take elevated and broader views, walk in the great garden, 
not skulk in a little “debauched” nook of it? 
Thoreau in Excursions

Flat rooftops are an increasingly popular location for city gardening. While growing ornamental plants on roofs provides enjoyment, vegetable gardens are a valuable source of fresh local produce. The Roof Top Garden at Boston Medical Center serves many functions, including providing vegetables, such as tomatoes, carrots, and kale for their cafeteria, for employees, and for low-income populations.  


Roof Top Garden with the Boston Medical Center in the background.

In addition, the farm provides a place for patients and staff to relax and participate in a farming experience.  Student groups visit the farm to learn about agriculture, and recent immigrants work there to gain job skills.  


Water and fertilizer are applied directly to plant roots using a tube system that minimizes evaporation and run-off.

The Roof Top Farm also developes new farming techniques, involving soils, containers, watering systems, and pest control, that will be shared with others interested in rooftop farming. 


On the roof of the Stone Science Building, Sarabeth describes her research to Boston University freshmen.

Sarabeth Buckley, a grad student at Boston University’s Earth and Environment Department, carries out research on the biogeochemistry of rooftop gardening. She investigates if spinach plants grow faster if fertilized with carbon dioxide generated by students breathing in classrooms. 


Classroom air with a high carbon dioxide concentration is applied to spinach plants. Will they grow faster?

Friday, July 6, 2018

How does phenology help protect Acadia National Park and other conservation areas?

Posted by Abe Miller-Rushing, Acadia National Park

As a National Park Service scientist (and Primack Lab alum) who has spent much of my career studying changes in the timing of phenological events, I get asked that question a lot. The answer is straightforward, but not obvious to many people (including myself when I started working at Acadia National Park): nearly all resource management actions depend on phenology. 


Park ranger monitors plant phenology at Acadia National Park. 

Tracking changes in the flowering times of plants helps us identify which species might be vulnerable (e.g., plants not keeping up with changes in climate conditions, or those becoming mismatched with key pollinators or seed dispersers) and which might become invasive (e.g., nonnative plants tracking changing climate very closely). Phenology data also improve the timing of when park staff go out to monitor the “vital signs” that help us track the health of Acadia’s ecosystems. People have phenology too - phenology that tracks nature pretty well in many cases (like when tourists choose to visit Acadia). So by studying changes in phenology we can forecast how the visitor season is likely to expand; these forecasts then inform park planning for transportation, staffing, and facilities. Perhaps most important, by participating in phenology citizen science people can “see” changes in the environment that might otherwise go unnoticed. 

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Common Garden Experiment at Acadia National Park: New Publication from the Primack Lab

posted by Caitlin McDonough MacKenzie

I’m very excited to share the news that a project from my dissertation research has been published in the American Journal of Botany. “Local environment, not local adaptation, drives leaf-out phenology in common gardens along an elevational gradient in Acadia National Park, Maine” is now available online!

A figure from McDonough MacKenzie, Caitlin, Richard Primack, and Abraham Miller-Rushing. 2018. Local environment, not local adaptation, drives leaf-out phenology in common gardens along an elevational gradient in Acadia National Park, Maine. American Journal of Botany, 105(6): 1–10. doi:10.1002/ajb2.1108 

Back in Fall 2013 I spent two weeks constructing common gardens in Acadia National Park with the help of Friends of Acadia volunteers. Over the next three year I worked with a great team of College of the Atlantic students to monitor spring phenology in the gardens. It’s very nice to see the results — the title of the paper is a real spoiler! — in print! Happy reading!

First author, Caitlin McDonough MacKenzie, posing with her experimental transplant garden at the base of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Nest box monitoring with citizen scientists

Posted by Lucy Zipf
"The bluebird had come from the distant South
To his box in the poplar tree,
And he opened wide his slender mouth,
On purpose to sing to me."
- Henry David Thoreau, April 1852

Citizen science, or public participation in scientific research, is a rapidly growing discipline in both scale and contributions to scientific research. If you have ever participated in a BioBlitz or posted to eBird, you are a citizen scientist that has likely contributed to ecological research!

Mass Audubon volunteer Richard Kent checks a nest box 
occupied by a cavity nesting bird at Broadmoor Wildlife Santuary

We have partnered with Mass Audubon, a statewide conservation organization that hosts many citizen science programs, to investigate the quality and scientific value of their volunteer-collected data.

In particular, I am investigating a nest box monitoring data set from Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary, a Mass Audubon property in South Natick, MA. Volunteers at Broadmoor have monitored the timing and success of breeding in cavity nesting birds in 55 nest boxes for 30-years. 

Blue bird eggs in a Mass Audubon nest box

Box occupants include tree swallows, bluebirds, house wrens, and occasionally black capped chickadees. We are interested in determining the relationship between the volunteer observations of nest development and climate change.

Tree swallow chicks in a Mass Audubon nest box

The length of this 30-year (!!!) monitoring program will give us much more insight into the relationship between climate change and reproductive timing and success of these species than a shorter study would. We also get to work with enthusiastic and knowledgeable volunteers, making this project a win-win.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Good News!

Posted by Richard Primack


“What have we to do with petty rumbling news? We have our own great affairs.”
Henry David Thoreau in his letters, 1843. 

Our lab members and colleagues have a lot of good news:

Dr. Amanda Gallinat received her PhD degree at the official BU hooding ceremony.


Amanda and Richard at the hooding ceremony

Sarah Pardo presented the results of her senior research on leaf longevity at the Boston University Academy research symposium.


 Sarah Pardo at the Arnold Arboretum

Linnea Smith was one of three undergrads selected to present the results of her undergraduate honors research to the BU Biology Department.  An interview with Linnea was also featured in the publicity of BU Giving Day. 


Linnea Smith at the Undergraduate Honors presentation

Elena Newmark, a graduating senior, was awarded BU’s Francis Bacon Science Writing Prize for her paper on the effects of noise pollution on marine invertebrates written for BI 448 Conservation Biology.


Elena Newmark won the science writing prize

Tim Laman, a National Geographic photographer who has helped with many projects, had an exhibit of his Concord photos at the new visitors center at Walden Pond State Park. 


Tim Laman with his photo of Walden Pond

Good luck for these well-deserved accomplishments! 

Monday, June 4, 2018

From Nature’s Halls to the Halls of Congress

Posted by Tara Miller

It’s a hot May day in upstate New York, hitting 80 degrees already by late morning.  I’m walking around a wide-open grasslands area with a group of people as Ralph Tabor, local Fish and Wildlife Service volunteer extraordinaire, points out the bobolinks swooping above the grass and the dying ash trees.

Hikers enjoy Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge in Wallkill, NY

I’ve organized a hike at Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge, which is a mouthful.  The event is an opportunity for people to get to know their local public lands and connect with other wildlife enthusiasts.  This is part of what I do working for Defenders of Wildlife.  The other part takes place in a different kind of wilderness.  

A month ago, I was in Washington D.C., guiding a small group of New Yorkers between meetings.  Shoes clicked down long marble hallways.  We ducked in and out of offices, sometimes even standing in hallways to meet with a staffer and argue our case.  Our nation’s bedrock wildlife protection laws – including the Endangered Species Act and Migratory Bird Treaty Act – are under attack.  People from the Adirondacks down to Staten Island traveled to D.C. to remind their representatives why wildlife is important.

New Yorkers walk the halls of Congress to advocate for wildlife

Shawangunk Grasslands reminds us of why this work is important.  It’s one of two grasslands sites remaining in the Hudson Valley in New York.  Birders drive from all over the region to catch sight of a particular migratory grasslands bird as it stops through this haven of suitable habitat.  We can’t let these areas slip away.  And it takes active work to ensure that our wildlife protection laws and public lands will still be around for future generations.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Surveying birds in the national parks of the west


Posted by Amanda Gallinat

“It is in vain to dream of a wildness distant from ourselves. There is none such.”
-Thoreau in his Journal, 30 August 1856

This spring, my partner Sam Roberts and I are surveying birds for the National Park Service out west. Between early-May and early-July we will have surveyed twelve parks across the Northern Colorado Plateau Network (NCPN), which is a region of parks located primarily in Utah and Colorado. Launched in 2005, the goal of these annual bird surveys is to determine what bird species are using the parks in this region, how species densities are changing over time, and what is driving those changes.

Sam uses a rangefinder to measure the distance to a Juniper Titmouse in pinyon-juniper habitat at Capitol Reef National Park

To determine which birds are present and in what densities, we use a point count method. Every day before sunrise, Sam and I each navigate to a transect located in one of three target habitats: riparian, pinyon-juniper, or sage. At each of fifteen points along the transect, we then look and listen for any and all birds for five minutes, recording the species of each bird and the distance it is from us. For the most part, we detect small songbirds that are breeding in the area.

We identify most birds by their songs and calls; in this video, taken in sage habitat at Bryce Canyon National Park, you can hear a nearby Western Meadowlark

Sampling with point counts allows us to estimate changes in the densities of birds over the past thirteen years of the project. Birds with densities that have declined significantly over that time include Black-throated Gray Warblers (primarily associated with pinyon-juniper habitat), Lazuli Buntings (riparian habitat), and Sage Sparrows (sage habitat).

Lazuli Buntings breed in riparian habitat, and are declining in density in the NCPN; Photo by Alix d'Entremont via the Macaulay Library

We also conduct habitat/vegetation surveys at each point, recording information like the height, abundance, and plant species present in the canopy, shrub, and ground cover, as well as the presence of snags, tamarisk, bare rocks/cliffs, and prairie dog towns.

Me, noting the presence of (lots of!) tamarisk during a vegetation survey in a riparian transect

One next step for this project, in addition to continuing long-term monitoring, is to identify the drivers of changing bird densities. Possible predictors include the habitat/vegetation characteristics we have been recording, as well as remotely sensed information like precipitation patterns. You can find more information on this project, run by the NCPN and the Shriver Lab at the University of Delaware, here. Read last year’s annual report here.