Citizen Science Pollinators, Molluscs and Other Invertebrates Uncategorized Weeds

2023 February Citizen Science

If there’s one thing I hope to accomplish with this blog, it’s that folks reading it will be inspired to become their own citizen scientists. Increasingly, the data collected by ordinary people, including gardeners like us is being used to inform science and policy. Here are some examples of how powerful citizen science can be.

Óðinn / CC BY-SA 2.5 CA (Wikimedia Commons photo). Image from The Historical Society of Ottawa.

Urban forest-mapping in Montreal

A Concordia project cataloging the diversity of the urban forest in a Montreal residential neighborhood is now complete, and the researchers behind it say the results highlight the importance of a diverse city tree population. The project found that private residences and institutions such as schools and places of worship usually had different tree populations from those planted by municipal authorities in city parks and roadways or sidewalks. While the city-planted trees tended to be bigger and more resilient to stressors like drought or salt, the often-smaller private trees served other functions such as providing fruit, flowers or aesthetic beauty. The full findings are published in the journal Urban Forestry & Urban Greening. The researchers solicited residents and institutions such as schools and churches around Concordia’s Loyola Campus in the Notre-Dame-de-Grâce neighborhood. They asked them to measure the circumference of the trees on their property, photograph their bark and leaves and submit their data to the Montreal Tree Project website for analysis. Private residences were found to have the highest richness in species diversity while institutional lands—mostly schools and churches—were found to have the lowest. “From an ecological standpoint, having a diverse tree population leads to a more multifunctional landscape,” says Hutt-Taylor, now the project coordinator of nature-based solutions at Concordia’s Loyola Campus. “It can also provide a more resilient forest to events like climate change, changes in the environmental fabric of the city as well as to pests and disease.”

Drosera koikyennuruff. Credit: Thilo Krueger

Everyday Aussies help find missing plant species

Scientists have identified six new or rediscovered Western Australian plant species from photos taken and uploaded to the internet by members of the public, including a nature photographer from Jurien Bay, a pair of wildflower enthusiasts from Dongara and a farmer from near the Stirling Range National Park. Lead researcher, Ph.D. student Thilo Krueger from Curtin’s School of Molecular and Life Sciences said the newly described species were carnivorous sundews and were identified through images shared on Facebook and to the iNaturalist website, highlighting the value of such platforms for contributing to advances in taxonomic research. The work was published in Biology.

Image from EU Observer article What Europe still needs to do to save its bees. Photo: Dearbhlaith Larkin & Felipe Guapo, Carolan Lab Research Group, Maynooth University, Ireland

Citizen science initiatives increase pollinator activity in private gardens

Have you made adjustments to your garden to make it more welcoming for pollinators? If so, you have probably made a valuable contribution, according to a new study from Lund University. The researchers evaluated the national “Operation: Save the Bees” campaign, and their results indicate that what private individuals do in their gardens really can make a positive difference. In 2018, The Swedish Society for Nature Conservation launched a campaign to save bees and other pollinators, aiming to get the public involved by creating more favorable environments in private gardens. The actions that were encouraged were to create a meadow, plant flowers or set up a bee hotel. Around 11,000 Swedes responded to the call, and now researchers from Lund University have evaluated the measures. The result show that the greatest positive effect on the number of pollinating insects was if you had a meadow with a higher number of flowering species in your garden. As for flower plantings, it was favorable if they were older and also covered a larger area. Bee hotels, in turn, were more often inhabited if they were located in flower-rich gardens, if they were older, and if the nest holes were a maximum of one centimeter in diameter. Since the researchers collected the data via peoples’ own estimates, there is a great deal of uncertainty in each individual data point, says Anna Persson, but adds that one can still be confident in the results given that so many responses were received. The study is published in the journal Frontiers in Sustainable Cities.

Canada Thistle (Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

RHS asks gardeners to find interesting ‘weeds’

Helena Horton writes in The Guardian about a citizen science initiative by the Royal Horticultural Society. Private gardens in the UK may be an untapped source of scientific discovery, according to the RHS’s new ecologist, because “scientists can’t just go into people’s gardens”. Instead, Gemma Golding, who started working for the charity late last year, wants gardeners to look for interesting species and submit them to the iNaturalist app for scientists to analyse. What may be viewed as a weed could be a rare plant, or growing in an unusual place where it has not been recorded before. The quid pro quo is that gardeners will get feedback on the mystery plants they find. Armed with more knowledge, they will be better able to manage problems that crop up in their gardens.

Climate Change Gardening

2023 Climate Change Round-up

Photo credit: Markus Spiske on Pexels.

It’s hard to stay on top of all the news about climate change and hard to stay optimistic when so much of it seems to be doom and gloom. I take hope from the ongoing work of so many scientists and activists, and from the success of previous international treaties. For example, earlier this month, the UN reported that the Ozone layer may be restored in decades. The Montreal Protocol, signed in 1987, had countries agree to phase out production and use of ozone-depleting substances. If we could agree globally to save the ozone layer, I think we have a shot at a global agreement to save the entire planet from climate change. Here are a few more reports and news snippets of interest to gardeners.

From the NASA website on global climate change. Photo credits: left – Mellimage/, center – Montree Hanlue/, right – NASA.

The New Yorker reviews Three Climate Reports: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. The good: the Biden Administration released an 83-page “blueprint” for decarbonizing the nation’s transportation systems, which are that country’s largest source of carbon emissions. The bad: the Rhodium Group, an independent research firm, estimated that US greenhouse-gas emissions grew by 1.3% in 2022, largely due to an increase in emissions from the transportation sector. This increase, according to the report, “was driven mainly by the demand for jet fuel,” as air travel rebounded from COVID. On the positive side, renewables now produce more electricity than coal in the U.S., and total emissions are still slightly lower than pre-pandemic levels in 2019. However, the US is falling ever further behind on its commitments. Last summer’s passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, which authorizes some $400B in spending on clean energy, was a “turning point,” and could produce emissions cuts “as early as this year if the government can fast-track implementation.” Still, the group admonished, the U.S. “needs to significantly increase its efforts.” The ugly is the third report, from the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, which notes that 2022 was the fifth-warmest year on record globally, and last summer in Europe “was the warmest on record by a clear margin.” In fact, , all of the past eight years have been among the eight hottest. 

A rainbow above the Washington Monument on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Photographer: Samuel Corum/Bloomberg

Bloomberg offers a rosier perspective behind their paywall in an article by Leslie Kaufman and Laura Millan Lombrana called Six Climate Breakthroughs That Made 2022 a Step Toward Net Zero. They begin by acknowledging the almost incomprehensible damage wrought by climate change, and distressing policy decisions, such as rebounds in coal consumption. But they also note the following signs of hope:

  • The Biden administration’s Inflation Reduction Act, which is the country’s most aggressive piece of climate legislation ever. Its provisions ensure that for decades to come billions of dollars will roll toward the energy transition, making it easier to deploy renewable energy, build out green technologies and subsidize consumer adoption of sustainable technologies.
  • The European Union started to make good on its pledge to cut emissions by introducing additional costs imposed on imported goods from countries without the EU’s restrictions on planet-warming pollution.
  • Agreement at COP15 helps to protect biodiversity.
  • The big breakthrough at the 2022 climate negotiations (COP27 in Egypt) sees developed countries agreeing to fund loss, damage and energy transition for developing nations.
  • Voters in Brazil ousted Bolsonaro and reinstated Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who won the presidency in part by promising to stop deforestation of the Amazon. Pro-climate parties also won big in Australia’s elections.
  • Following the recognition at COP26 in Glasgow of the dangers of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, 150 countries have pledged to act to reduce methane emissions.
Prosopis laevigata mesquite near the Chichimeco dam, in Jesús María, Aguascalientes, Mexico. Photo by Luis Alvaz, from Wikipedia.

Climate Change May Favor Nitrogen-Fixing Plants

In Death Valley National Park, which straddles the California-Nevada border, mesquite plants (genus Prosopis) thrive in extreme aridity. While most vegetation types must extract most of their nutrients from fertile soil, mesquites and similar plants receive additional nitrogen from symbiotic bacteria, which enzymatically fix atmospheric nitrogen into an easily absorbed form in exchange for sugars produced during photosynthesis. To determine how arid conditions affect the biodiversity of these types of nitrogen-fixing plants, University of Florida PhD student Josh Doby compared public data on soil, species counts, and aridity from 47 terrestrial sites in the US. Doby and his colleagues initially hypothesized that nitrogen-deficient soils would prompt an increase in nitrogen-fixing plant diversity. The results, however, showed “that aridity is actually the primary driver” of phylogenetic diversity, Doby says. As conditions became drier, the ratio of nitrogen-fixing to non-fixing plant species increased even as overall plant diversity declined. Because these plants have access to atmospheric nitrogen from their symbiotic bacteria, their leaves contain more nitrogen than other plants, and this buffers them against aridity by helping them retain water, says Mark Adams, an ecologist at the Swinburne University of Technology in Australia who was not involved in this research. When plants open their stomata to take in carbon dioxide, water escapes, but nitrogen stimulates the production of enzymes that improve the efficiency of carbon uptake, shortening how long plants need to hold their stomata open, Adams explains. “And that’s the secret [of] nitrogen-fixing plants.” Doby’s research is published in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography.

A dust storm. Photograph: Jason Davies/Severe Weather Australia

‘It was like an apocalyptic movie’: 20 climate photographs that changed the world: The Guardian UK offers recent  images that change how we see our world and how we understand climate change. From the iconic 1968 “Earthrise” photo that is credited with kick-starting the environmental movement to pictures of golfers “playing through” a forest fire in Oregon; a man pushing kids on a satellite dish through floods in Pakistan; and deforestation in the Amazon, these photos bring home the reality of climate change. Note, images of giraffes that died of thirst in Kenya and a starving polar bear are particularly upsetting.

Leaf them be. Photo by R. Last.

After those sobering images from The Guardian, it’s time for some more positive news. A recent Danish studies found that By leaving garden waste alone, Danes could store 600,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year. This is wonderful news for those of us who already practice ecological gardening because there are so many other advantages to leaving garden waste where it lies. For example, fall leaf litter protects a multitude of over-wintering invertebrates. And of course, leaving the yard waste in place is much less work for us gardeners. Talk about a win-win-win!

Rhodo in Rebecca’s back yard. Photo by R. Last.

Climate crisis prompts RHS to plan for sending rhododendrons north

In an example of assisted plant migration, the Guardian reports that the climate crisis has prompted the Royal Horticultural Society to plan a move of its important collection of rhododendrons from its flagship Wisley garden in Surrey to Harlow Carr in North Yorkshire.

Visual abstract. Effect of climate change–impact menu labels on fast food ordering choices. Credit: JAMA Network Open (2022). DOI: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.48320

In the category of things we can do, pushing for climate labelling just might be a good avenue to explore. A recent Study shows climate impact labels on food sold in fast food restaurants can change buying habits. A team of researchers affiliated with multiple institutions in the U.S. has found that placing labels on foods sold at fast food restaurants informing consumers of the negative impact of the production of such foods on the planet can alter consumer buying habits. In their paper published on JAMA Network Open, the group describes conducting an online survey using a fictional restaurant to learn more about consumer food buying choices.

From The Guardian, a wind farm in Texas. Photograph: Delcia Lopez/AP

Finally, in a lengthy piece in The Guardian, Rebecca Solnit writes that “Every crisis is in part a storytelling crisis.” Her article about how to tell the story of climate change (‘If you win the popular imagination, you change the game’: why we need new stories on climate) offers hope for new story-telling and useful tips on how to talk about climate change with your friends.

Children Citizen Science Health

2023 January: Children

Colourful signage and picket fence make for a bright welcome to the Children’s Garden. Photo by Lorne Abugov. Reproduced from The MainStreeter community newspaper.

Ottawa’s First Dedicated Children’s Garden Is An Oasis of Green and Growth

One of the delights of living in Old Ottawa East is its proximity to green spaces and natural beauty. Since 2008, Robert Legget Park has been transformed into Ottawa’s first dedicated Children’s Garden. A veritable oasis of green and growth, the Garden represents a true community effort, with contributions from many local groups. As is appropriate for a Children’s Garden, students at Lady Evelyn Alternative School undertook research and design work, which resulted in the garden plan. As well, each fence picket was painted by a student at the school. Improvements were made in 2017 and, more recently, a garden manager was hired. This is also a teaching garden. Jennifer San from Let’s Talk Science at uOttawa and CarletonU and Hannah Keefe from Frontier College Ottawa were on hand on a particularly lovely day in early July to offer their expertise. A group of enthusiastic children gathered around the seating circle and were spellbound while Keefe read The Giving Tree by The Giving Tree . She and San then encouraged the children to think about the story and what they can do to appreciate and respect nature. The children then dashed around the Garden to find a leaf that interested them. Back at the table, they were given a chunk of clay to roll out and press their leaves into to create an impression. The children summed up the activity with enthusiasm: “excellent, fun, great, helpful knowledge.”

School garden-based interventions can improve blood sugar, reduce bad cholesterol in children

School garden-based interventions can improve metabolic parameters such as blood sugar and cholesterol in children, according to a new study from UTHealth Houston. A cluster randomized controlled trial conducted by researchers with UTHealth Houston School of Public Health and The University of Texas at Austin found that Texas Sprouts—a gardening, nutrition, and cooking intervention implemented in elementary schools in Austin—improved glucose control and reduced bad cholesterol in high-risk minority youth. The results were published in JAMA Network Open.

A new project by the Royal Horticultural Society aims to find out the best species of hedge to plant in urban areas. Photograph: RHS Images/PA

Scientist enlists pupils to see how hedges can make greener schools

Ever thought there should be more hedges in playgrounds? A group of urban schoolchildren are going to be taking part in a scientific study to see what impact a hedge can have. A project by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) aims to find out the best species of hedge to plant in urban areas, so it can be rolled out across state schools that suffer from air pollution and a lack of green space. Dr Tijana Blanusa, the RHS principal scientist, decided to carry out her research in schools after realising her two children had very little access to nature at their urban state primary. The children will be involved in learning more about the role of plants in reducing flood risks, improving air quality and summertime cooling – either by using a new online tool made by the RHS or through hands-on science sessions in school, led by the science team. However, there will be a control group of children without access to the hedge, to see the difference having green space makes.