Ag school diversifies vegetation to study H2O quality
Published: Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, October 18, 2011 04:10
Breaking from normal horticultural methods, a College of Agriculture and Natural Resources research team is studying water quality in lawns with diverse vegetation, in hopes of recommending sustainable landscaping to the university.
The team believes that diverse vegetation will prevent the production of polluted water, said Professor Doug Tallamy, chair of the Entomology and Wildlife Ecology department and a member of the team.
Tallamy said their study differs than traditional water quality management efforts. Normally, contaminated water is intercepted before it gets into water systems, but researchers are seeking ways to keep water clean from the start, he said.
"If we put more plants in the landscape, they absorb water, they don't let it run off," Tallamy said."You don't fertilize diverse plants like you do a lawn."
Susan Barton, a member of the research team and professor of plant and soil sciences at the university, said pesticides used in traditional lawn maintenance pose a significant threat to humans and the environment.
"Overuse can hurt non-target organisms," Barton stated in an email message. "Pesticides should be used only as specified on the label and at the right time of year and on the correct pest life stage."
In the researchers' proposed diversified lawns, fewer pesticides would be necessary and therefore less water would be polluted. Tallamy said the ecosystem will also see benefits, because plants support biodiversity and biodiversity is essential to the ecosystem.
The study will be conducted at Winterthur, a garden, museum and library located in Wilmington. Data will be collected from a mowed lawn, a nearby meadow and a forest area.
Winterthur has six watersheds featuring varied plant life. A watershed is an area of land where all the water under or draining off of it goes to the same place, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
Barton said the location was chosen because it is a large space with potential for public outreach. She said the team hopes the demonstration will inspire residents to remodel their landscapes in an aesthetically appealing yet sustainable way. If the study supports the researchers' hypothesis, the team plans will recommend landscape diversification to the university. Although the team is not in charge of landscaping, Tallamy said they have conducted some research on Laird Campus.
In 2008, the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources oversaw a study to measure student support of landscape diversification.
"We have released some areas that were formerly mowed and allowed them to be meadows and in a couple other places we have planted or seeded meadows," Barton said.
Researchers found that students in Independence Hall were accepting of the changes, but their approval was improved by signs explaining the study's purpose.
Sophomore Laura Young, a wildlife conservation major, said it's important to get rid of barren lawns because fewer animals can survive in such an environment.
"I would rather have more diverse vegetation [around campus] because more animals and organisms can live in taller vegetation," Young said. "We would have a lot more wildlife on campus and we would have a lot more to look at."
Barton said that birds in particular would benefit from increased vegetation diversity.
"Diverse vegetation—more different plants, especially more natives—will support more wildlife, even on campus," Barton said. "More insects mean more food for birds"
Sophomore Matt Eherts, a biology major, suggested the inclusion of cacti. Eherts said because cacti require minimal water to survive, the saved water could be directed towards other uses.
"It sucks walking to class when you see the same plants over and over again," Eherts said. "We need more bright colors and big leaves."