It’s been a busy month in the Garden Ecology Lab.

  • Gail’s manuscript on bees in home and community gardens has been published in Acta Hort. Briefly, the results of this literature review are that: 213 species of bee have been collected from a garden habitat; gardens have fewer spring-flying and fewer ground-nesting bees, compared to non-garden sites; I suspect that over-mulching might be cutting out habitat for ground-nesting bees in gardens.
  • Aaron presented his first Extension talk to the Marion County Master Gardeners. This 90-minute talk was an overview of using native plants in home gardens.
  • The entire lab is getting ready to present their research results at the 2018 Urban Ecology Research Consortium annual conference, to be held in Portland on February 5th. A few highlights of our presentations, can be found below.

Gail’s Poster on Urban Bees: we sampled bees from 24 gardens in the Portland Metro area (co-authored with Isabella and Lucas)

  • Langellotto and Messer UERC 2018 Poster: click to see preliminary results
  • Most of the bees that we collected await identification. We did find a moderate relationship between lot size and bee abundance: larger yards hosted more bees. But, we also found evidence that suggests that intentional design can influence bee abundance: one of our smallest gardens (site 56 = 0.1 acre), located in the Portland urban core (surrounded by lots of urban development) had the second largest number of bees (42), of the 24 gardens sampled. This garden was focused, first and foremost, on gardening for pollinators. The plant list for this garden (photos, below) includes: borage, big-leaf maple, anise hyssop, globe thistle, California poppy, nodding onion, yarrow, fescue, goldenrod, Phacelia, Douglas aster, lupine, mallow, columbine, meadow foam, yellow-eyed grass, blue-eyed grass, coreopsis, snowberry, Oregon grape, trillium, mock orange, pearly-everlasting, serviceberry, coneflower, blue elderberry, currant, milkweed, dogwood, shore pine, crabapple, cinquefoil.









Mykl’s Poster on Urban Soils: we sampled soils from 33 vegetable beds across Corvallis and in Portland (co-authored with Gail)

  • All gardens were tended by OSU Extension Master Gardeners.
  • Gardens were over-enriched in several soil nutrients. For example, the recommended range for Phosphorus (ppm in soil) is 20-100 ppm. Garden soils averaged 227 ppm. The recommended range for Calcium is 1,000-2,000 ppm, but the mean value for sampled beds was 4,344 ppm.
  • Recommended ranges gleaned from OSU Extension Publication EC1478.
  • There was a tendency for soils in raised beds to be over-enriched, compared to vegetables grown on in-ground beds.
  • Data suggests that gardeners are annually adding additional soil amendments or compost, and that there has a build up of certain elements in the soil.

Aaron’s Talk on Native Plants: measured bee visitation to 23 species of native and 4 species of non-native garden plants (co-authored with Lucas)

  • Field plots established at the North Willamette Research and Extension Center
  • In the first year of establishment, of the 27 flowering plants that were the focus of this study, seven natives (lotus, milkweed, camas, strawberry, iris, sedum, blue-eyed grass) one non-native (Lavender) did not bloom, or else did not establish
  • Several natives attracted more bees than even the most attractive non-native (Nepeta cataria, or catmint). These include:
    • Gilia capitata: Globe Gilia
    • Madia elegans: Common Madia
    • Aster subspicatus: Douglas’ Aster
    • Solidago candensis: Goldenrod

All bees have been pinned, labelled, and data-based. Now we’re (and when I say ‘we’re’, I’m mostly referring to Lucas and Isabella) are going through the painstaking process of photographing all specimens: head on, from the top, and from each side. We’ll then start sorting them by morphotype (how they look), and working to identify them. Some of the bees are very common, and fairly easy to identify (like Anthidum manicatum, Bombus vosnesenskii, Apis meliifera). Others will take a bit more time and expertise to get to species.

You can take a look at the entire album, representing about 150 of the nearly 700 collected bees. We’ll be adding the rest of the bees, as we can.

We collect and pin the bees, because most are difficult to identify, without getting them under a microscope, and without the help of a museum-level bee specialist. For those bees that are easy to identify by site (such as the ones listed above), we only collect one per garden (so that we have a record of its presence). We don’t collect multiple specimens of the same species, if we can identify it in the field. And, we don’t collect obvious queens (larger, reproductive bees).

We collect using a combination of water pan traps and hand collection. For hand collection, we use a pooter (an insect aspirator) for the smaller bees and baby food jars for the larger bees.

Water pan traps. We buy plastic bowls from the dollar store, prime them, and paint them with UV paint that is optimized for the wavelengths that bees see.
Here, I’m holding an insect aspirator, otherwise known as a pooter. You can suck insects off of flower heads without damaging blossoms, by carefully placing the metal part of the pooter, over the bee. It is then sucked into a small plastic vial, which I’m holding in my right hand.

This is such an exciting part of the research for me. I find myself obsessing over the photos, trying to organize them in my mind, and to at least get them to genus. Grouping them by genus makes it easier for an expert to sort through and identify them. And, I’m so grateful for their assistance, that I want to make it as easy as possible for them!

We’ve collected bees from gardens near Forest Park, in Portland’s city center, and in outlying suburbs. We’ll analyze the data to see if there are any patterns associated with garden location (forest, city, suburbs), or to see if there are specific bees that are only found in forest gardens, for example.

#OverlyHonestMethods is a hashtag that is trending on Twitter.  With this hashtag (which is simply an easy way to sort and find posts), scientists share the honest, ugly truth behind research.  Some examples:

  • “Data was not recorded on Sundays because I didn’t feel like coming in, and not recorded on this day because spiders”
  • “Got a random number by asking my mom for a 3 digit number b/c I was too lazy to use an actual random number generator”
  • “Only read the abstract of the paper cited because I don’t have any money to pay for the full paper.”

This past week, I felt like I was swimming in my own #OverlyHonestMethods research sorrow.

For starters, my particular project in the Garden Ecology Lab is to document pollinator biodiversity within 24 Portland-area gardens.  I LOVE this project.  It’s the project I’ve wanted to do since I arrived at OSU, in 2007.  But, there are two minor issues with this project.

Distribution of 24 gardens, being sampled for insect pollinators, 2017-2019.
Blue, yellow, and white pan traps ~ placed into home gardens to passively sample insect pollinators.
One of our beautiful, Portland-area garden study sites.

First, it takes me 6.5 hours to drive to all sites, in one day.  This is without doing any of the actual research.  I had originally planned to sample all gardens June 21-23 ~ but this plan was quickly scrapped when I realized that there would be no way that we could physically drive to all gardens, set traps, sample for 10 minutes, and then return to pick up all traps the next day.

Working dawn to dusk, we were only able to sample 13 of our 24 gardens, June 21-22.  So, we pushed our second set of garden samples (the remaining 11 gardens) to June 29-30.  Not ideal ~ but this is why we are replicating our study across three years, and will be sampling gardens once a month, for 3-5 months, within each year.

The other major issue with this study, this month, is that I am chairing the International Master Gardener Conference.

In less than one week, I’ll be welcoming nearly 1,300 Master Gardeners to Portland ~ for a conference that begins on July 9th (pre-tours), and ends on July 17th (post-tours).  That means that my crew and I have been stuffing 1,300 envelopes and bags.  We’ve printed and are putting 3,900 meal tickets into 1,300 badges.  I can’t over-emphasize how much work this conference has been (and continues to be!).  On the one hand, sampling pollinators just before this conference is the LAST thing I needed to do.  On the other hand . . . after spending too many late nights in a hot room, filled with boxes and boxes of conference envelopes, sampling garden pollinators is exactly what I needed.

Of course, when it rains, it pours.  Last week, we also had issues with our Native Plant study.  On Tuesday, I get a call from Aaron, who tells me that:  (1) someone trespassed onto our plots, and sprayed herbicide, and (2) someone pulled our plants up, by the roots, in one of our study blocks (replicates).

Native plant plot. This poor plant was ripped out of the ground, and/or had herbicide applied in the vicinity.
Native plant plot. This one was spared the wrath of wreckless weeders and herbicide applicators.

It’s a long (and enraging) story.  But, long story short ~ we lost all of the plants in our fifth study block.  We only have five blocks / replicates in this study (with 24 plant species ~ it is both expensive and expansive to include more blocks).  So, in one sad, sad day ~ we lost 20% of our replication, which will have negative impacts on our statistical power.

How will we cope?  We’ll regroup and replant.  We were already planning on repeating this study in 2018. Now, it seems like we’ll have to repeat in 2018 AND 2019 ~ which is a bummer . . . because this will extend Aaron’s time in grad school, will cost me 50% more to get him through grad school, and generally makes a sad, sad day for all.

But, the silver linings are: I love working with Aaron, and don’t mind supporting him for an extra year, and Aaron had already mentioned that he might want to stay on for a Ph.D., which would necessarily lengthen and/or expand the scope of his study.

C’est la research.  Perhaps in 2-3 years, we’ll all be able to have a good chuckle about this challenging month.


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.


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 Management 36:426–438.

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 Conservation 19: 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 Ecosystems 13:333-347.

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.

We study gardens: the plants, insects, animals, people, decisions and management practices that either improve or degrade a garden’s ability to promote environmental and human health.

An underlying premise of our work is that gardens are important and understudied systems, that are key to building more sustainable, healthy and just communities.  

Garden Ecology Lab, Fall 2017: (left to right) Signe Danler, Gail Langellotto, Lucas Costner, Isabella Messer, Michael Nelson, Aaron Anderson

Our garden pollinator work is supported by a generous donation from Spike Wadsworth and Y. Sherry Sheng.