From time to time, we will highlight citizen science projects which may be of interest to OSU Extension Master Gardeners. Please visit our ‘Get Involved‘ page, for guidance on using approved Citizen Science projects to help fulfill the Master Gardener service hour requirement in Oregon.
This post is modified from a recruitment email provided by Dr. Michael Just who oversees the citizen science project, ‘A Tree’s Life‘.
‘A Tree’s Life‘ is a citizen science project that tracks tree growth, as one indicator of climate change. This project is perhaps one of the easiest ways to participate in citizen science. The time commitment is extremely low (a few minutes per year!), and their target species (Acer rubrum, commonly known as red maple) is a ubiquitous tree in urban and suburban yards.
Trees provide a suite of ecosystem services that improve human and environmental health. However, urban trees are subject to environmental stressors, including increased temperatures and drought. These stresses may reduce ecosystem services and make tree more susceptible to arthropod pests. The objectives of ‘A Tree’s Life‘ are to understand how climate and urbanization affect tree pests, growth, and health, and ecological services like carbon sequestration, air filtration, and water filtration.
Despite the importance of mature trees, we do not know much about the effects of warming on tree growth and services. This is largely due to the difficulties in experimenting with mature trees; you cannot move trees to warm spots. It is not practical to warm trees with heaters. Without information on how trees respond to warming and urban stress, there is no basis for selecting tree species and planting sites that will allow trees to thrive with minimal management or intervention.
Urban areas are warmer and often have higher carbon dioxide concentrations than rural areas. Warming and urbanization can reduce tree growth due to water stress, pests, and other factors. On the other hand, warming might increase tree growth and health due to longer growing seasons. These contrasting urban tree responses allow us to use urban warming to predict changes beyond cities that might arise due to global change. Thus, cities may be sentinels that predict how plants and animals respond to climate change.
The goal of ‘A Tree’s Life’ is to monitor red maple growth in urban, suburban, and rural areas. This is where you come in!Volunteers are needed to monitor the growth of red maples in their own yards. The project will provide you with a dendrometer, which is a tool that measures tree trunk growth without injuring the tree. The dendrometers will need to remain on the tree for at least a year, hopefully longer. You would simply need to report the tree growth (and a few other details), about once a year.
Although your time commitment is small, your efforts will provide valuable data to determine how different altitudes, latitudes, and urban conditions affect tree pests, tree growth, and carbon sequestration.
Right now there are very few citizen scientists in the PNW. Thus, participation by Oregon’s gardeners would make a big difference!
The core logic of science is that you can test ideas or answer questions, by systematically gathering evidence (or data), and then considering how that evidence supports or refutes your idea.
Of course, there are lots of intermediary steps in the process, including doing initial research into the question, so that we understand what is already known about the study system, the biological process, or the organism that is the focus of our question. We then form a testable hypothesis, stating what think will happen. Next comes the test of the hypothesis, through careful and controlled observation or experimentation. Data is gathered and analyzed, specifically to see whether or not the outcome of your experiment either lends support or helps refute your hypothesis. These steps in the scientific method are often portrayed as linear an uni-directional.
In reality, the scientific process is an iterative, rather than a linear process. The scientific process a continuous and ongoing cycle between theory and data. Here, the word ‘theory’ is used to represent an explanation, or a logical framework, that represents our current understanding of the way that things work. Theory is used to classify, interpret and predict the world around us.
For example, one common theory in ecology is that: as the size of your yard or garden increases, so too will the number of species that inhabit your garden. This is known as the ‘species area relationship’.
But, even after theories have been formed, scientists continue to ask question, gather additional data, and consider how what they knew . . . Or thought they knew . . . Aligns with any new information or data they may gather. Good scientists must know and consider previous observations, and synthesize this existing data with new observations . . . All in an effort to refine and improve theory.
If we go back to our species area relationship, you’ll notice that the graph is linear. For a long time, this is how scientists thought biodiversity worked: as habitat size increased, the number of species in that habitat increased. But, after gathering more data, scientists realized that the relationship is more of a curvi-linear relationship.
Increasing the size of a habitat, or having a larger garden, increases the number of species you will find . . . But only up to a point. At some point, you’re going to hit the limits of the species pool in your vicinity, such that increasing garden size results in fewer and fewer new species in your garden. The number of species eventually levels off, rather than continues to increase.
This is one of the most beautiful things about science ~ it allows for, and even encourages repeated and critical analysis of ideas. Critical analysis is especially common for new ideas . . . But even established ideas ~ explanations that have long gained acceptance ~ are subject to critical analysis, review and revision, as new data becomes available.
Consider how the process of inquiry is, in your own garden. Have you ever made an observation that brought many questions to mind? Perhaps you saw a caterpillar that you could not identify, and you wanted to know more: what is the species?; is it new to this area?; what are its host plants? Once you found the answers to your original questions, did it bring more questions to mind? Congratulations! You’re thinking like a scientist!
If you’ve ever had this type of circular experience of inquiry ~ where an observation led to questions, and the answers to these questions led to more questions ~ consider sharing your experience in the comments.
Update on a new collaborative project that kicked off in August 2017:
This summer, a team of OSU Extension Benton County Master Gardeners assisted in data collection on variety trials of tomatoes and peppers. The plots were planted & maintained by Dr. Jim Myers (OSU Department of Horticulture) at the OSU Vegetable Research Farm in Corvallis. Each cultivar was rated for how well it would perform for home gardeners in Oregon. Factors we were measuring included yield, pest damage, fruit quality (size, susceptibility to sunburn, cracking, etc.) and, of course, flavor! Dr. Myers gave an demonstration and description of how to rate the different factors and then the team was off. Over eight weeks, the team rated (and tasted) over 100 cultivars of tomatoes and over 90 cultivars of sweet & hot peppers.
The data is being analyzed now and we hope to provide an list of cultivars recommended for western Oregon in time for the 2018 gardening season.
What’s YOUR favorite cultivar of tomato and pepper?
Written by Gail Langellotto, Gail.email@example.com
On the very day that I am typing this note, Aaron Anderson (a M.S. student in my lab) and Lucas Johnston (an undergraduate student in my lab) are staking out Aaron’s research plots at the North Willamette Research and Extension Center in Aurora, OR. Later this week (weather-permitting), Aaron, Lucas, myself and others will be planting 150 1 m2 plots with 30 different plant species. These plants will include 25 species of plants native to Oregon’s Willamette Valley (Table 1), and five popular, non-native, ornamental plants that can be found on lists of plants purported to be attractive to pollinators. We’re still debating the identity of the non-native plants, but are considering: Agastache, Lavendula ‘Gros Blue’, Lavendula ‘Edelweiss’, Nepeta, Salvia, Origanum or Hyssop.
Table 1. Native plants selected for this study.
Giant blue eyed Mary
Baby blue eyes
Acmispon (Lotus) parviflorus
Western red columbine
Eriogonum compositum var. compositum
Sedum spathulifolium ssp. spathulifolium
We have four key objectives for this project, one of which requires citizen science input.
Assess the abundance and species richness of beneficial insects (including pollinators, parasitoids and generalist predators) associated with Willamette Valley native plants, to develop a rank-ordered list of recommended plants .
Measure native Willamette Valley plants’ attractiveness to pests.
Document the total and peak bloom duration of Willamette Valley native plants, as part of an effort to develop planting schema recommendations that provide season-long resources to beneficial insects.
Measure aesthetic appeal of flower species to home gardeners to create separate planting schema recommendations likely to be adopted by home gardeners.
Since a key component of this project is to develop recommended lists of pollinator plants for home gardeners, we want to make sure that the plants that we’re recommending will be embraced by gardeners. This is where citizen scientists come in.
After our plants are established, we will be asking folks to rate the plants’ aesthetic appeal, and to note how likely they would be to include each plant in their garden. We’ll be inviting folks to our study site, and asking for your opinion. We will also set up an online poll, for those who can’t make it to Aurora. This aspect of the study still needs approval by the OSU Institutional Review Board, since surveys are considered human subject research. But, as soon as we get approval, we look forward to hearing from you!
Look for an update in your inbox next week. We’ll have project updates and opportunities to get involved with OSU horticulture research this summer! Make sure you’re on the list by signing up here.
Indigo Rose, a truly purple tomato, has been bred at Oregon State University as the first variety to come from OSU’s program to breed for high levels of antioxidants in tomatoes. (Photo by Tiffany Woods, OSU.)
Gardens are unique and understudied systems, that can have multi-faceted and positive impacts on environmental and public health. But, key to realizing the potential, positive impact of gardens are the decisions that are made when planning, installing and maintaining garden beds and features. These decisions are especially important, because gardeners manage and maintain a significant amount of land in the United States. Take lawns, for example. Studies suggest that lawns represented the single largest irrigated crop in the United States, and that there are more acres of lawn than the combined acreage of corn, alfalfa, soy, orchards and rice1.
Of course, lawns are just one component of a garden ~ perhaps the least interesting component, from an ecological point of view. Gardens are special, because of their unique levels of plant abundance and diversity2, which in some cases can be considered ‘biodiversity hotspots’3. In New York, my lab group documented the important role that plant abundance and diversity in urban and suburban gardens can play in conserving pollinator biodiversity4, 5, 6. Recently, some of the top researchers in the country argued that conservation plans could better harness the positive environmental benefits of gardens and landscapes7. But, before we can get there, we need to answer some basic questions.
This is where the Garden Ecology Lab comes in. Our group works at the interface of ecology and sociology, to try and understand the benefits of gardens to the environment and to human health and well-being. We want to document the biodiversity of plants, pollinators and other organisms in Oregon gardens, and analyze what factors constrain or promote garden biodiversity. I’ve done this work in New York, but want to repeat these first steps in Oregon. Ultimately, the goal is to understand how gardens ~ and the decisions we make in our gardens ~ either promotes or constrains ecosystem services, such as pollination, pest control, and more.
Our group is diverse, and includes students interested in ecology, horticultural therapy and urban soils. Extension and outreach is embedded in all that we do, such that we plan to work closely with gardeners (as citizen scientists) to describe and understand garden biodiversity, and to communicate findings to broader audiences. We’ll be looking for garden study sites and cooperating gardeners in the coming months, and invite you to get to know us, just a bit more.
Gail Langellotto (Principle Investigator): An entomologist by training, Gail coordinates the statewide Master Gardener program. Her research and extension interests are focused on developing a better understanding of how to design and manage gardens and parks within urban/suburban landscapes to maximize ecosystem services such as pollination, pest control and human health and well-being. Starting in 2017, she hopes to work closely with Master Gardeners in home and community gardens, to begin documenting garden biodiversity in Oregon.
Michael Nelson: a student of the Earth, Michael has begun his Master’s of Horticulture to further his desire to create a sustainable community of alternative learning and living. He is interested in community gardening, how private growers overcome their hurdles, and fostering the abundance possible if we all networked together to create our own food.
Robert Yarnall: Robert has an innate drive for social justice. He has begun his Masters of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies in which he has chosen to integrate three academic disciplines: Horticulture, Food Culture in Social Justice, and Business. His ultimate goal is to study the effectiveness of therapeutic horticulture on inmates and staff within Oregon’s correctional facilities, while also highlighting the economic benefits associated with such programs.
Signe Danler, a lifelong gardener and plant nerd, brought her passion for plants to OSU and earned a Masters of Agriculture degree in 2014. Her wide-ranging interests were fulfilled by coursework in Horticulture, Urban Forestry, Environmental Science, and Soil Science. Her particular area of focus is urban horticulture and applying ecological principles to landscape design and maintenance. She is now teaching sustainable gardening as instructor of the online OSU Extension Master Gardener course, and designing ecologically sensitive gardens as a landscape designer.
Aaron Anderson is a M.S. student broadly interested in how ecological function can be incorporated into urban and agricultural landscapes. After dabbling in entomology, restoration ecology, and biological control, he became interested in studying urban systems. Aaron is fascinated by native beneficial insect conservation, especially in understanding how such species use urban green spaces as habitat to in turn inform how we manage these areas.
1Milesi, C., S. W. Running, C. D. Elvidge, J. B. Dietz, B. T. Tuttle, R. R. Nemani. 2005. Mapping and Modeling the Biogeochemical Cycling of Turf Grasses in the United States. Environmental Management36:426–438.
2Thompson, K. K. C. Austin, R. M. Smith, P. H. Warren, P. G. Angold, K. J. Gaston. 2003. Urban domestic gardens (I): putting small-scale plant diversity in context. Journal of Vegetation Science 14:71-78.
3Gea Galluzzi, G., P. Eyzaguirre, V. Negri. 2010. Home gardens: neglected hotspots of agro-biodiversity and cultural diversity. Biodiversity and Conservation19: 3635–3654.
4Fetridge, E., J. S. Ascher, G. A. Langellotto. 2008. The bee fauna of residential gardens in a suburb of New York City (Hymenoptera: Apoidea). Annals of the Entomological Society of America 101:1067-1077.
5Matteson, K. C., G. A. Langellotto. 2010. Determinates of inner city butterfly and bee species richness. Urban Ecosystems13:333-347.
6Matteson, K. C., J. S. Ascher and G. A. Langellotto. 2008. Richness and composition of the bee fauna of urban gardens in New York City (Hymenoptera: Apoidea). Annals of the Entomological Society of America 101:140-150.
7Hall, D. M., G. R. Camilo, R. K. Tonietto, J. Ollerton, K. Ahrne, M. Arduser, J. S. Ascher, K. C. R. Baldock, R. E. Fowler, G. W. Frankie, D. Goulson, B. Gunnarsson, M. E. Hanley, J. I. Jackson, G. Langellotto, D. Lowenstein, E. S. Minor, S. M. Philpott, S. G. Potts, M. H. Sirohi, E. M. Spevak, G. Stone, C. G. Threlfall. 2016. The city as a refuge for insect pollinators: conservation for the city. Conservation Biology. Online First.
In April 2016, the Citizen Science (In the Garden!) team conducted a survey of OSU Extension Master Gardeners. The survey was sent out electronically using Qualtrics. We wanted to find out what training was needed to help Master Gardeners confidently participate in Citizen Science projects. We were also interested to know if there was overwhelming interest in topics already being explored by researchers at Oregon State University and Portland State University.
We received 250 responses which is a low number (There are over 7000 OSU Extension Master Gardeners across the state!), but at least we have some information to move forward and start the discussion.
The first page of results is is from a survey question which asked which research topics interest Extension Master Gardeners (click to view full size).
The second page of focuses on the answers from a question asking about confidence in different terms and ideas related to basic scientific research (click to view full size).