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Although often unnoticed, urban green spaces such as public parks, golf courses, and residential gardens are vitally important to people as they provide ‘services’ such as recreation, cooling of air temperatures, carbon storage, food production and improvement to health and well-being, as well as supporting many plants and animals.  My research on ecosystem services aims to investigate some of these services, addressing questions including:

1) What are the ecosystem services provided by animals in urban landscapes?

2) How does the diversity of animals influence the provision of ecosystem services?

3) What is the role of people in shaping urban biodiversity and the ecosystem services it provides?

Projects

Understanding pollination services and plant reproductive success in remnant and revegetated urban parks

Funded by Parks Victoria

Researchers include Dr Caragh Threlfall, Dr Nick Williams, Dr Ken Walker and Jessica Baumann

Declining pollinator abundance has major implications for the persistence of insect pollinated plants in urban landscapes. In this project we have surveyed the pollinator communities at remnant and revegetation sites in urban parks and quantified their effectiveness at providing pollination services relative to the surrounding landscape. Results will assist urban land managers to understand how landscape context influences native pollinator diversity, the ecosystem service they provide and the success of revegetation in supporting pollinators.

 

Social and ecological drivers of an ecosystem service in urban community gardens

Funded by an Early Career Research Grant provided by The University of Melbourne

Researchers include Dr Caragh Threlfall, Dr Dave Kendal, Caroline Wilson, Dr Rodney Van der Ree, Dr Steve Livesley and Prof Gary Luck

Urban community gardens provide many benefits to people and also habitat for urban biodiversity. They are places where people can interact with and influence their environment, including the biodiversity. The impacts of environmentally conscious gardening behaviours on biodiversity and subsequent ecosystem services have rarely been investigated.

Using a gardener questionnaire and ecological surveys, we investigated the interaction between social and ecological factors in driving the control of the White Cabbage Butterfly (Pieris rapae), an insect pest. We surveyed 160 gardeners and garden plots, across 19 community gardens in Melbourne, to examine the influence of people’s values and behaviours on the plant and insect communities within their garden plots. Then, using experimental sentinel baits (real eggs and model larvae of P. rapae), we assessed the provision of pest insect control services across community gardens. 

This research will contribute substantially to our understanding of the way peoples behaviours shape animal communities in cities, and will investigate how gardening behaviours influence the effectiveness of animals, such as beneficial wasps, in the biological control of pest insects.

Results from this research were presented at the 2014 Ecological Society of Australia Conference in Alice Springs. Manuscripts in preparation - stay tuned for the results!

 

Does vegetation structure shapes people’s preferences for urban public parks and residential gardens?

Masters Research project by Virginia Harris, Supervised by Dr Caragh Threlfall, Dr Dave Kendal and Dr Amy Hahs

This research adds a social element to the broader research program investigating ecosystem services from large urban green spaces. Using a suite of residential gardens and public parks across south-east Melbourne, this study investigated the hypothesis that people’s assigned values are related to their preference for urban park and garden landscapes. Residents’ assigned values for parks and gardens were assessed quantitatively, where it was predicted that people would prefer landscapes that aligned with their assigned values, and that preference would be related to physical features contained within urban park and garden landscapes.

Harris, V., Kendal, D, Hahs, A.K., Threlfall, C.G. (in press) Green space context and vegetation complexity shape people’s preferences for urban public parks and residential gardens. Landscape Research. Accepted 22nd August 2016.