OOS 1-10 - An urban garden project that combines student-led biodiversity research and community service

Monday, August 8, 2011: 4:40 PM
16B, Austin Convention Center
Adam D. Kay1, Andy van Alst1, Aaron P. Hays1, Joshua M. Prebeck1 and Ashela A. Richardson2, (1)Biology Department, University of St. Thomas, Saint Paul, MN, (2)Biology, University of St. Thomas, Saint Paul, MN

Understanding the function and importance of biodiversity is a basic research objective in ecology and an educational focus in biology. Although research in natural ecosystems has helped clarify the effects of plant biodiversity on ecosystem processes, much less is known about the importance of biodiversity in urban ecosystems. Exploring factors affecting productivity in urban gardens also has practical importance due to the increased emphasis on local food production in urban regions. Moreover, because the products of urban gardens can be donated to food shelves, urban garden projects provide an ideal opportunity for combining research and service. Here we report on an urban garden project designed as a biodiversity experiment. The garden experiment compares the main and interactive effects of crop diversity (monoculture vs. 4-species assemblages) and fertilizer type (synthetic vs organic) on crop growth, yield, and soil quality. It consists of 32 2m-by-2m plots, and crops used in the experiment are summer produce including tomatoes, peppers, and cabbage. 


As a research project, the garden has provided an on-campus location for undergraduate student-led research on a central question in ecology – the importance of biodiversity. The simple structure and adequate replication in the design allows us to test for significant effects of diversity and fertilizer type on individual plant performance. At the same time, it provides infrastructure for student-led projects focused on different dependent variables such as insect herbivory or weed establishment. As an educational tool, the garden provides a setting for student gatherings to discuss the importance of biodiversity, urban agriculture, and food justice issues. As a service project, the garden in 2010 yielded over 400 lbs of produce that was donated to local food shelves. By integrating research, education, and service, the garden project provides a gateway for socially conscientious students to become involved in ecological research, and provides tangible opportunities for social impact (through food donations) for students interested in community service. The focus on biodiversity and urban food production also increases student awareness of two of society’s most pressing challenges.

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