Monthly Archives: March 2014

Green Roofs Data Collection Methods

In preparation for our green roof visits, our team looked to various resources to identify the best methods to observe and document the biodiversity on the roofs around grounds. With the help of Dr. Matthew Palmer in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology at Columbia University, we decided on four different methods of sampling we plan to execute during our visits in the coming weeks. The sampling methods are specific to observing mobile organisms including insects and various invertebrates.

Sweep Nets

Image from:

The basic structure of a sweep net is a mesh netting attached to a wire hoop. They can vary in size depending on the environment you are working in but for the purposes of our green roof observations, we will be using one that measures 12 inches in diameter. To collect samples, the nets are swung side to side against the plants. A 180-degree arc downward is considered one full sweep and we will consider four full sweeps as one test in our observations. We plan to conduct at least four tests on each roof. We will also be using an aspirator to help us examine and identify species.

Malaise Trap

Image source:

Malaise traps can be hung and suspended in the air or be placed on the ground to capture and survey airborne organisms. The tent is made of a lightweight fiberglass frame and mesh screens. Airborne insects will fly into the mesh net, continue to fly up to the white tent and into chamber at the top that will capture the insects. The tent is approximately 3.6 ft x 3.6 ft x 3.6 ft, so these traps will be used on roofs with the appropriate amount of green space to accurately capture roof samples.

Bee Bowls

Bee bowls are 3-4 oz bowls spray painted in a bright color (typically yellow or blue) that are filled up about half way with soap water in order to capture bees. Each gallon of water should be matched with two generous squirts of dish soap. Lemon scents are to be avoided, as they tend to detract bees. The soap in the water will ease the surface tension to ensure the bees remain suspended in the water. Bees and airborne insects will stop moving within 60 seconds of hitting the water and while they may wake up they will not regain normal behaviors. The number of bowls on each roof will depend on the rooftop dimensions, as they need to be approximately 16 feet apart. The bowls will be left out from 9am to 4pm on clear days. The captured specimens will be removed and sifted through using a mesh strainer and the bees will be collected and stored in Ziplock bags filled with 70% alcohol solution (denatured alcohol) to be further examined and identified.

Pitfall Traps

Pitfall traps are made using a 12-16 oz cups that are placed in a hole dug into the ground of the green rooftop. The cups rim should be just under the substrate of the surface. The cups will be filled with saltwater and will serve to capture insects that will walk across the substrate. We plan to place about three pitfall traps out for 24 hours on each roof for testing. The captured insects will be then further identified using field guides with the assistance of an Ecology Teaching Assistant or a member of the UVA Entomology club.

Post by Jane Hur, Fourth-Year, Urban and Environmental Planning

The Importance of Locations: Week two results of Camera Trap Hunting

With our second week of exploring nocturnal life at UVA completed we are still tackling the learning curve. With all five camera traps set in place, we choose locations this week that we believed would catch some type of nocturnal life on grounds. The biggest obstacle of the week was underestimating the amount of foot traffic in some of the locations, as well as our secondary issue of needing to rethink locations maybe in a different viewpoint.

Our camera trap on the rugby side of the Architecture school in the garden caught some nocturnal life. We captured a picture of an opossum wandering around the wall right around midnight when little to no foot traffic was present. Opossums are a solitary animal which explains why only one showed up on camera; it has been shown that these animals are creatures of habit and will remain in an area as long as resources remain. Due to this information it would be interesting to see if any opossums will come back to the area the remainder of the study.


Our trap in the Dell proved to only find pictures of ducks and had a very surprising amount of foot traffic for the area that it was placed in. The original hope was to capture images of animals maybe using the water as a water source but none showed up. There are multiple reasons this could have happened due to either the random weather patterns we have been experiencing or the foot traffic of human night life scaring of any animals that would use this source. Due to the fact that the camera was placed there for a week, we have decided to move on from this location for now and will maybe come back to it in a few weeks to see if the weather had any significant impact. The traps in both the garden near the lawn and a location behind the IRC both resulted in no nocturnal life.


With no success in four of the five cameras, we have decided to once again try out new ideas. Our current course of action has been to place cameras in areas where we ourselves have seen nocturnal activity. Although this approach hasn’t been as affective as hoped, we have been able to receive a few promising pictures that can give us an idea of locations to look for as we decide where to place the camera traps. As we initially agreed, we have not set out any form of bait to lure in the animals because we wanted to see what animals would naturally come to a particular area. The group will discuss in over the next week whether or not we plan to continue this or if baiting may be a sufficient idea in order to see what nocturnal life there is around the area regardless of the specific function it would have come to the area for.

Post by Megan Waring, Second-Year, Civil Engineering

Established Gardens on Grounds

“I have often thought that if heaven had given me a choice of my position and calling, it would have been on a rich spot of earth … No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden.” – Thomas Jefferson, 1811 

My name is Cristina Ramirez and I am a third year Environmental Thought and Practice major. For this blog post of the Edible Trees and Plants group I will be talking about the current established gardens on Grounds and their importance to student and community life.

All of these gardens fulfill Jefferson’s intentions of having a botanical garden added to the Academical Village. He understood what spending time outdoors and with nature could do for one’s mental and physical health, as well as the importance of having a proper scientific understanding of plants. His visions have taken form in a variety of ways on Grounds, from being primarily ornamental and a place for relaxation to areas where students can grow their own food and study plant life. Here are just a few of the gardens that you can find in the UVa community:

UVa Community Garden

The UVa Community Garden has a mission to provide a space for the University and Charlottesville communities to learn more about organic farming. Not only is this a important education resource for students and faculty, but it is an opportunity for connections to be made between the community and school. They have successfully grown Asparagus, Rainbow Chard, Arugula, Herbs (Rosemary, Thyme, Basil, Flat-leaf Parsley), Bulls Blood Beets, Golden Beets, China Rose Winter Radish, Florence Fennel, Carrots, Peruvian Zinnias, French-Stripe Marigolds, Sunflowers, and Strawberries.

Hereford Heritage Gardens

The Hereford Heritage Garden is student run and allows them to learn about where their food comes from. Among their plants they have grown tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, lettuces, cabbage, kale, turnips, and herbs.

Students work together to create arches to support crop cover fabric, which will prevent the frost from settling on the plants. It also should help insulate the plants with heat absorbed during day. Photo from herefordgardens.wordpress.

The gardens at UVa are not just on Grounds. They extend to the surrounding Charlottesville area and showcase the other ways gardens can contribute to one’s daily life.

Blandy Experimental Farm

These 700 acres in the Shenandoah Valley are used as a field station and base for experimental projects and programs. Research is done by UVa faculty and students on plant pollination, plant-animal interactions, and deforestation caused by the gypsy moth. Education and Public Programs offer workshops, lectures, and tours to learn about environmental issues and the history of gardening. Finally, the State Arboretum of Virginia holds over 5000 living trees, and herb garden, and the Virginia Native Plant Trail. Many of their public events run from March to May, you can find out more about what they offer on their website:

Morven Farm

Donated to the University in 2001, it has since been used for academic and educational purposes. The 7,379 acre piece of land consists of 11 farms and gardens. In 1930 landscape architect Annette Hoyt Flanders restored the gardens. The gardens included extensive planning of various types of shrubs and flowers of all colors. Today the area has public outreach programs where community members can come visit the formal gardens and observe the farms. Students and faculty participate in the Morven Kitchen Garden during the year and can attend the Morven Summer Institute in the summer:

Sources used:

Post by Cristina Ramirez, Third-Year, Environmental Thought and Practice

The Learning Curve: Our Successes and Failures in our First Week of Camera Trap Hunting

Spring break was an exciting time for our progress in exploring the nocturnal life of UVA grounds. Before break we were able to set up three of our five camera traps, and now with new memory cards we were able to position all five of them around grounds. In our first week of hunting, we enjoyed some success however we also came up empty at places, prompting us to rethink our locations as well as tactics.

We decided to place our two new cameras in the garden on the rugby side of the Architecture school, and then in the central wooded area by Gooch-Dillard Residences. We chose these two places because we frequently spotted rabbits in the garden, then the Gooch-Dillard area always appears to be a squirrel heaven, hopefully bringing in some interesting pictures.

Our next camera trap which we placed in Lambeth before break has proven to be a disappointment and produced no pictures or activity. Reasons for this could be the abundance of human activity and infrastructure around the field, or simply poor placement as choosing the right spot across the entire campus can be compared to finding a needle in a haystack. In light of this lack of activity, we have decided to move the Lambeth camera to the Dell pond closer to center campus. The pond always seems to be abundant with bird life, and we also hope to catch some mammals sneaking in for a drink. An update with our success on this project will come next week.

The camera trap which we placed in the Lawn garden has proven its functionality; however it has captured only human activity, no nocturnal animal life that we are trying to document. We foresaw this as a potential problem with the amount of human traffic through the gardens, but we continued with it as it would be really neat to find out what animals roam around Jefferson’s academical village. We have now moved this camera to Carrolton Terrace on JPA where multiple stray cats as well as raccoons have been spotted. We’re hoping for great activity from this spot.

Our final camera which was placed in the IRC dorm area has proven to be our best success. With a total of 18 pictures we captured a wandering dog, some windy branches and human activity, but most excitingly a fairly blurry picture which we believe to be a deer. Catching a large mammal is about as exciting as it gets, and we look forward to continuing this trap.

What to take away from our first week of camera hunting? Placing the cameras is incredibly difficult and our success or failures can hinge on aiming a camera five feet in the right or wrong direction. Our successes have proved that there is in fact an animal nocturnal life underworld in Charlottesville, and that we will be able to find.

Where do we go from here? We hope to find more success with our newly placed cameras. At the beginning we made the group decision to not use baiting in order to produce the most natural activity results, however if our next week doesn’t prove fruitful, bating is our next step. When we consulted with Mrs. Bliss-Ketchum, the expert from Portland State, she advised using a mixture of peanut butter and oats as bait. This could be our next move as we need more activity in order to chart generalizations and patterns of the nocturnal life around grounds.

Post by Rob Wyatt, Second-Year, Commerce

The Morel of the Story

Here in Charlottesville, we’ve had a crazy month or so of snowstorms interchanged with sunny skies. While fungi will grow in the winter, the snow covering the ground makes it difficult to look for!

Nonetheless, I’m hoping our group will soon find fungi and lichen anywhere near as interesting as the kind in the Shenandoah National Park! Species there include shelf mushrooms


and morel mushrooms


which are edible! However, beware! Many mushroom species imitate morels, but the false ones are NOT edible!

Another edible is a very large fungus, the giant puffball!


Yep, not your typical mushroom!

As for lichen, those in Virginia include the rock tripe:


Lichen can be described as “crusty,” “shrubby,” or leaf-like, according to appearance, shape, and texture.

And for a bit of fungi trivia/myth: the field mushroom species has been said to only grow in areas often visited by stallions, ever since Roman times. This is the reason many believe the species is in decline in many of its frequent locations.

Works Cited

“Field mushroom (Agaricus campestris).” Field mushroom videos, photos and facts. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Mar. 2014.

“Mushrooms and Other Fungi.” National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior, 10 Mar. 2014. Web. 19 Mar. 2014.

Post by Kelsey Veazey, Second-Year, Urban and Environmental Planning

Life in Soils

Soil is an integral part of our lives. It grows the food that we eat, houses the plants that we need, and secures the foundation for our lives.

So, what is soil?

It is the skin of the earth and the mother of all life, according to geologist David R. Montgomery. In his book, Dirt, Montgomery reveals the beauty, importance, and necessity of soil. Charles Darwin was one of the first to take note of the dynamic nature of soil. It consists of a system of giving (erosion) and taking (weathering of rocks) based on changes in the environment. Many factors can affect soil, its composition, the cycle in which it participates in, and its level of fertility. These factors include: the presence of various types of flora and fauna; topography; climate; geology of a particular region; and time.

What is the relationship between soil and flora and fauna?

Soil is an inextricable component of the ecosystems of the world. Nutrients from the soil move from plants and animals and back to soil in a never-ending cycle. These nutrients include: nitrogen, phosphorous, calcium, sodium, and cobalt. They return to the soil in the form of decomposing organic matter, which fertilizes and allows the further growth of new plants.

Plants supply soil with the necessary organic matter from decaying dead plants and animals, as well as leaf litter. There are also soil organisms that accelerate the weathering of rock and decomposition of organic matter. These organisms include earthworms, gophers, ants, and a multitude of microorganisms. Roots also play a role in breaking up rocks to enrich the soil with essential minerals.

Are there layers of soil?

The layers of soil are simply categorized as horizons: O horizon, A horizon, B horizon, and C horizon. The topmost layer of soil is the O horizon, which is made of somewhat decomposed organic matter. This organic matter comes from fallen leaves, small branches, and other forms of plant vegetation. The existence and make-up of this layer depends on the region. In tropical jungles, the O horizon has the most amounts of soil nutrients, while this layer may simply not exist in arid regions with little vegetation. Below the O horizon lies the A horizon, which is a dark and highly fertile soil formed from completely decomposed organic matter. Together, the O and A horizons form topsoil, which can erode easily due to run-off. The next layer, the B horizon, has less organic content, which means that it is less fertile. It is often known as subsoil, and is composed of clays, nitrogen, phosphorous, and other elements that trickle down from upper layers. The final layer is the C horizon, which is composed of weathered rock.

How does the dynamic system of soil operate?

The system began four billion years ago. Early heat-loving bacteria, similar to the ones still found in the thermal pools at Yellowstone National Park, increased the weathering rates of rocks to form a very primordial soil underneath protective bacterial mats. In turn, the bacteria consumed enough carbon dioxide to allow the Earth to be inhabitable.

The dynamic system is self-enriching and self-reinforcing. It recycles decomposing matter, serving as a filter that converts dead organic material into the nutrients for new life. Soil acts as the interface between the earth and plants and animals by regulating the transfer of elements in a continuous cycle. Erosion of soil and of rocks helps maintain the pace of the creation and usage of soil as well.


Montgomery, David R. Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations. Berkeley and Los Angeles, California: University of California Press, 2012. Print.

Post by Alice Liu, Third-Year, Statistics and Spanish

Night Flight Calls

This spring, The Bird Night Flight Calls group will be recording the night calls of birds on Observatory Hill at the University of Virginia. Starting on March 24th until April 20th, our group will be recording birds night calls bi-weekly. The observations we make will be posted on this blog each week during the time we are recording.

We have also recently reached out to Professor Alan Clark at Fordham University and were responded to with insightful information to start our project. He suggested we use recording devices, such as a Video Cassette Recorder, in order to document the bird’s night flight calls and also gave us a website for more information regarding NFC analysis and trends.

On our own, we have been able to research the types of birds found at Observatory Hill, thanks to the Monticello Bird Club, and other various websites that depict sound clips of the calls they make. Hopefully we will be able to discern the various species of birds, and if they are migratory or native, according to their calls on our recordings.

We are excited to get started and learn about local Charlottesville birds as well as migrating birds and their night calls!

Post by Nikki Goncalves and Emily Votroubek

Fungi: Our Unsung Heroes

Historically, fungi have probably been the most underrated kingdom. That is until recent decades. The more that is understood about these organisms, the more possibilities present themselves. Fungi play a vital role in the ecosystem while having significant implications in anthropological, medicinal, environmental, and agricultural fields to name a few.

When I say vital role in the ecosystem, I really mean vital. Through their vast mycelia networks, fungi spread nutrients and retain water, characteristics that plants readily take advantage of. Fungi also provide to plants disease resistance, thermal resistance, protection from predation, and protection from climate change/droughts. Plants couldn’t exist without them. They break down the complex molecules that once belonged to living organisms into simpler compounds that are usable by others in the ecosystem. In addition to decomposing other organisms, fungi also break down rocks while extracting their nutrients. These two processes form our soil, a substance that, while essential, is often taken for granted. And of course, this is all in addition to having a fair number of deliciously delectable members of the fungal kingdom.

In essence, our team’s biogrounds efforts are to give credit where credit is due.  Our goal is to recognize the presence and stress the importance of fungi in the ecosystem that is the UVA campus. It is important to recognize, however, that fungi are actually everywhere. Their spores are on you right now. Every square inch of soil has up to 8 miles of mycelia and it stretches everywhere. Our search will be primarily for mushrooms and lichen (which is basically a symbiotic relationship between a fungus and a photosynthetic organism) simply because we can see them without a microscope. We will be photographing them for later identification, so keep an eye out for some pictures in future blog posts!

Most of the information in this post I derived from “The Future is Fungi,” a Paul Stamets video lecture (link below). Stamets is a pioneer in the field of mycology and if you set aside the hour and a half that it takes to hear him out, I promise you will agree that the future really is fungi.

Stamets lecture:

Post by Daniel Lassiter, Second-Year, Civil and Environmental Engineering

Thomas Jefferson, Horticulturalist

“No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden.”¹

From his Bedford County residence at Poplar Forest, Mr. Jefferson wrote to his friend and fellow naturalist, Charles W. Peale.  He likened the climate of central Virginia to that of southern France, where he served as a diplomat for years.  Like France, he found Virginia “exaggerates the summer warmth, tempers the winter cold, and captures an abundant wealth of crop-ripening sunshine.”²

His home was a testament to his love of the outdoors.  “The proportion of exotic plants which Jefferson possessed at Monticello was truly remarkable, for only a man extremely interested in horticulture would have gone to so much trouble and expense to possess them.”1  Mr. Jefferson is responsible for the introduction of flat rice, olives, figs and mulberry plants to southern plantations with the assistance of the South Carolina Society for Promoting and Improving Agriculture – perhaps today, he would be proud of the commercial nature each has taken on in the wake of his influence.

Horticultural diary Jefferson kept from 1766 until 1824, as well as selections from letters, sketches and other unpublished materials later added by Betts.
Photo by Margaret Eastham.

The building of Central College – now known as the University of Virginia – soon occupied the majority of his time.  “Our Virginia University is now my sole occupation,” he wrote to Henry Dearborn in 1822.³

Three short years later, the University opened its doors to students.  Jefferson was ailing in health, but relieved to see the doors open to his Academical Village.  However, the completion of the vision he had for his university was not yet realized.

In the August of 1826, Jefferson penned a letter to University proctor A. S. Brokenbrough, requesting that his hope of a botanical garden “be pursued at all spare time.”3  Jefferson ceded his plans to Dr. John P. Emmett, professor of natural history.  He described the vision he had for the gardens – four acres of exotic plants, two of trees, built onto terraces and enclosed by the ever-familiar brick serpentine walls as funds would allow.3  He described all of these plans in a late-April letter to Emmett.  Jefferson passed on July 4, 1826, and unfortunately, his dreams of a botany school here at the University of Virginia never came to fruition.

Mr. Jefferson’s prototype for the serpentine walls that surround the gardens on Grounds today. Photo from

“The greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add an useful plant to its culture.”1  The fondness Jefferson had for the outdoors was defining of his image, and continues to influence Monticello, the University of Virginia, the White House and all of their respective constituents today.  “The Jefferson legacy in gardening and good is not a mere historical curiosity, but is a compelling force in the movement toward a more sustainable agricultural future.”2

A recent look at Monticello and its blooming, terraced gardens.
Photo from

¹ Glass, Powell.  “Jefferson and Plant Introduction.” The National Horticulture Magazine. July 1944.

² Hatch, Peter J. “Thomas Jefferson’s Legacy in Gardening and Food.” 2010.

³ Betts, Edwin Morris. “Thomas Jefferson’s Garden Book.” American Philosophical Society. 1999.


Post by Margaret W. Eastham, Second-Year, Foreign Affairs

Taken for GrANTed: Ant Life Around Grounds

Ants- they’re incredibly prevalent in the environment around us. Yet the community around Grounds is more likely to have listened to the old hit song “Ants Marching” by local favorite Dave Matthews than they are to have considered the capabilities, species, and dwelling places of ants around Grounds. These critters, typically about half the size of a paper clip (depending upon the species), are truly impressive. They can lift and carry up to three times their body weight. Some species create foods traps from plant fibers. Others even prey on reptiles, birds, or small mammals. Amazingly, some even go so far as to use young brood – young ants in larval or pupal form – as “rafts” or “life-preservers” during floods. (These fire ants make the raft themselves to save their young and their queen:

The typical ant, however, lives in a structured, nest-like community located underground, in a mounds, or in a tree, and it functions as part of a swarm. The nest is ruled by the queen, who lays thousands, if not millions, of eggs throughout her lifetime. Other female ants are considered the “worker” ants– they forage, protect, build, and so on. The males typically have just one role in the colony, or army, as a community of ants is known- to mate with the queen. After mating, the male usually dies.

Besides some of the more universal facts about ants, though, we need to gain a specific understanding of where ants live around Grounds and how different habitats may affect species or even food preference. Amy Savage, an entomologist from NC State University (, visited Ground for the Biophilic Cities Launch last year and found 13 species of ants just around the School of Architecture. Our team wants to spread that study out over many parts of Grounds to gain a better understanding of ant life on Grounds.

But how do we do it? Well, in a study of ant life in New York City, Savage sampled ants in various habitats (parks, forests, and street medians) and noted that each area had unique species of ants. In addition, after giving ants several different food items, including olive oil and sugar water, Savage noted that ant food preference changed by location. Her team saw that ants living in street medians tended to go for the olive oil (higher in fat) because most fat in ant diets comes from other bugs, and many other bugs can’t survive in street medians.

So, with Savage’s work in mind, the Ant Team is preparing its own samplings and observations of ant life as the snow retreats from Grounds. Specifically, we plan on conducting sampling and observations at the following locations:

Ant Team Blog Post 1 Pic

We plan to sample and observe ant life around hard surfaces, on grassy surfaces, and near trees (where applicable) in these areas. Additionally, as part of our sampling procedure, we plan on using different types of food bait, similar to Savage’s design in her research of ant life in NYC. We look forward to sharing our observations and insights with you as the semester progresses!


Post by Stephen Brand, Fourth-Year, Commerce