Monthly Archives: March 2015

The Darkside of the Lawn

If asked what their favorite nature views at UVA are, students will most likely respond with a spring day on the lawn or a favorite view out a classroom window of the mountains off in the distance.  However, views of the stars from Grounds is very underappreciated.  UVA has many places where you can get amazing views of the night sky.  Overall, the Lawn is the most easily accessible for students and the large stretch of the Lawn lends itself to an uninterrupted view of the night sky.  The top of Observatory Hill is obviously where you will see the most stars because it is shielded from the surrounding light, but it is very difficult for students to reach.

                  The amount of stars you can see from the Lawn is obviously fewer than those you can see at the Observatory because of the light pollution from Central Grounds and the Corner (the glow of surrounding light is evident in the picture above), but you can still see far more than you could in any city.  The photo below taken by Jake Promisel, a second year Astrophysics student, is a time-lapsed photograph of the night sky above the lawn during a new moon.  Looking up into the night sky, one can truly appreciate the vastness of our universe and put everything into a whole new perspective.

                  The night-time biodiversity is not often thought about, but it is an important part of the Charlottesville ecosystem.  While looking up at the night sky, it is common to see bats and migrating birds fly overhead.  Rabbits and opposums can also be seen at night on and near the Lawn while you are laying there looking up at the sky.  Unfortunately, the night sky views and night-time biodiversity are being harmed by light pollution.  The Corner and Alderman Road dormatories are constantly spilling light into the night sky.  In order to preserve the the views and night-time biodiversity, we must change our city’s lighting to keep it contained.

Post by Kyle Mavity


Introduction: Where Do Microorganisms Live?

For our BioGround Blog, our group decided to focus on different interior spaces around Grounds. People always notice the organisms present outdoors by sounds and sight, but do people know about the microorganisms that live indoors? You might not realize that microbes can live on surfaces for up to one hundred years. However there are many factors that contribute to their lifespan. Factors include humidity, temperature, and the type of bacteria or virus. For example, the stomach flu, calicivirus, can live for week on clothes and household surfaces at room temperature.

While these facts might seem daunting, there are ways to prevent the spread of these microbes and to kill them. Simple ways to prevent the spreading is to wash your hands, clean surfaces, and cover your nose when you sneeze. Microbes can spread out over three feet from just one sneeze!

We want to observe areas to see where we think the most microbes live. Our idea is to interview people to see how often they clean their interior spaces as well as simply observing spaces and the traffic through them. We decided on observing different areas including but not limited to, men’s versus women’s living spaces, Clemons, Alderman, Clark, kitchens, equipment at the AFC, dorms, buses, locker rooms and study places. The things to take note in these areas include how often they are cleaned, how often certain things are touched (like door knobs) and how often people seem to sneeze or cough.

Every team member will observe one area and our blog will show the results. We will also research typical microorganisms that could be found it those areas. Ideally, we would want to take specific samples from the spaces but due to limited resources this could be a challenge. Furthermore, our hope is to find more information as to what is living amongst us.


Post by Bayley Wood



Home Is Where the Bats Are: Threats to Bats in Charlottesville

The images that tend to come to mind when we hear the word bat are often not pleasant. We associate bats with either the spookiness of Halloween and blood-sucking vampires, or the pests that infest and inhabit the darkest corners of our homes. While it’s true that it is probably cleaner to keep bats out of our attics, bats are actually extremely beneficial to our local and global ecosystems, as many of the blog posts below attest. In reality, humans pose a much larger threat to the health and well-being of bats, than bats pose to that of humans.

Most major threats to bat proliferation come from the careless practices of people. Of the 17 bat species in Virginia, 3 are federally endangered. These Virginia bats inhabit either caves or hollowed, decaying trees. Due to deforestation and subsequent development, thousands of bats are finding themselves displaced from their homes and searching for makeshift, hibernation friendly environments, often taking the form of attics and chimneys. When discovered, people respond with panic and quickly call for exterminators to remove the pests. The negative human portrayal of bats leads to thousands of unnecessary deaths every year. (There have even been incidents of arson in caves, purposefully obliterating bat habitats.) Fortunately the Virginia Professional Wildlife Removal Service now performs bat exclusions to safely remove bats and release them into wildlife habitats.

Climate change also puts bats in serious danger. Bats succumb easily to the heat stress associated with global warming. Additionally, as the patterns of seasons begin to alter, bats could become out of sync with the flowering of their food sources. Even our attempts to combat climate change with wind turbines has been destructive to bats (and birds) as many stand as obstacles along their migration pathways, confusing and/or killing them before they reach their destination. It’s time to start incorporating the lives on which our own survival depends into the growth and development plans of our cities! Otherwise, soon it will be the lack of bats, rather than their presence, that poses the problem!


Post by Camille Knable



“Threats to Bats.”  Defenders of Wildlife. (2015) Retrieved March 26, 2015, from

“Bats in Charlottesville and Richmond, Virginia.” Virginia Professional Wildlife Removal Services. (September 17, 2010) Retrieved March 26, 2015, from



Introduction and First Trip to the Dell Pond

For our Biogrounds Blog Posts, our group decided that we’d like to make a timeline of UVA’s Bird Song.  Throughout the second half of the Spring 2015 semester, we will alternate taking recordings of bird song at the Dell Pond and along Observatory Hill/behind Hereford.  We selected these two locations by looking at the birds blog from last year and noting the most popular bird habitats.   Every week we will write a blog post that will include our sound recordings, a simple timeline, a few pictures and a reflection on how the experience made us feel.  We will identify the birds to the best of our ability, but are hoping more to focus on the emotional and mental impact of spending some time just listening.  To start the project, we created a schedule and ordered a recording device, specifically the Sony ICDTX50 Digital Flash Voice Recorder.

I started the project with a trip to the Dell Pond on March 26, 2015 around 9:45 in the morning.  My trip was delayed a bit because of the rain, the temperature was around 55 °F and it was cloudy when I left my apartment.  As I walked over to the pond, I tried to focus on bird song along the way.  I was amazed at the consistency of the noise, there were only a few moments during my walk where there was total silence from the birds.  In fact, the loudest bird I heard during this trip was nesting in the roof atop The College Inn!  Although I heard many birds, I didn’t see many.  This changed immediately as I arrived at the Dell Pond, birds were noticeably more visible and definitely louder.

 I started by slowly and silently walking around the pond.  I know our group elected not to focus on identifying the birds, but I felt that I immediately wanted to know all the different species I was seeing!  I recognized cardinals, robins, sparrows and ducks.

There were a few other species I didn’t recognize including a black bird with a yellow-orange stripe at the top of its wing.  I pulled out my phone and did some googling and eventually correctly identified a red-winged blackbird!  Without a doubt I saw at least 20 birds.  I tried to take pictures of the birds, but I didn’t have much luck.  After walking around the pond, I sat on a very wet bench and spent some time just listening.  It was incredibly relaxing.  My older brother used to be a very avid bird-watcher and I never really understood the draw.  But as I was sitting on the bench, I understood.  There was nothing to distract my focus and I wasn’t worried about anything.  The fact that I was getting slightly rained on and my shoes were getting muddy didn’t bother me at all!  With a bit of focus, the sound of the water and the birds over-powered the noises from nearby Emmet Street.

I often tried to look for the birds that were making specific calls.  Sometimes I would hear a bird and immediately be able to spot it, other times I would search the trees and could not find the creature at all!  For a brief second I thought I saw a blue jay, but then I couldn’t find it again.  After a while I decided to walk along the stream, parallel to Old Dorms.  I found myself following a cardinal that kept flying away as I approached it, cardinals are quite loud birds! The longer recording is from my walk along the stream.

Eventually the stream ran out and I ended my trip.  Bird song is something that often is background noise, but I think this adventure has taught me to have a greater appreciation for it.  Even now, sitting in New Cabell writing this post, I can hear bird song.  This experience has really brightened my day and I think I’d like to visit the Dell Pond again.

Red-Winged Blackbird audio recording:  150326_005

Birds heard walking along the stream: 150326_010


Post by Emily Beacham



History of the Gardens

No visit to Grounds is complete without a jaunt in Jefferson’s extensive and well-planned gardens. All ten contain unique plant life complete with charm and character. Jefferson intended for the gardens to be a place to study and be studied. Contained by famous serpentine walls, the gardens remain largely empty nowadays except for the occasional evening event or brilliantly sunny day when locals walk their dogs or children fence to fence through squares of lawn, flowers, shrubs, and trees.

Jefferson also left many of details of the garden to be decided by Pavillion inhabitants. Residents were allowed to plant whatever they liked, so each plot assumed a very different personality and changed often. In earlier days, beans, peas, cabbage, and fruit trees served as ornamentation and livelihood. A historical restoration of the gardens occurred in 1950, and more maintenance took place in the 1980’s. By 2003, the gardens were dramatically different from their original composition.

A brief summary of the individual gardens:

Garden I is divided by a serpentine walk bordered by azaleas, purple leaf plums, and a sweetgum tree. The garden was once bordered by fruit trees and full of rectangular beds for vegetables and herbs.

Garden II contains a diverse spread of edible plants. A large pecan tree stands amongst grape vines, blueberry bushes, four varieties of heirloom plums, and crabapple trees. The garden is also home to daylilies and a magnolia tree. The trees were planted between 1915 and 1953 by the resident of Pavillion II, Dean Ivy F. Lewis, professor of biology.

Garden III is the largest of the garden, complete two Biltmore ash trees to shade the extended lawns. Other plantings in neviusia, a goldenrain and silverbell tree.


Garden IV contains descendants of French marigolds planted by Jefferson. It was restored to its late eighteenth century style in 1916 by the Albemarle Gardening Club. The design included tree peonies, rose blossoms and Southern magnolias.

Garden V is dotted with two “Albemarle pippin” trees in the center of each square that defines the bottom half of the garden. The upper area is sprinkled with purple hostas and pink crepe myrtles, and defined elegantly with green boxwoods.

Albemarle Pippin Trees

Garden VI is modeled after an orchard in the middle terrace. The upper terrace is a small lawn bordered by boxwoods. Its contains a famous feature, the Merton Spire (built in 1491 and donated to the University in 1928), which was carved for Oxford’s Merton College Chapel. It can be said that VI contains the most wilderness due to its native trees and shrubs, which include sweetbay, rhododendron, and mountain laurel.


Garden VII has a smaller area due to several additions. Its serpentine pathways are dotted with romantic roses.

Garden VII

Garden VIII’s main blooms of crepe myrtle, rose of sharon, and chaste trees occur during the summer. Intimate flower gardens hide behind large boxwood while oakleaf hydrangeas and roses line the walkways. A small formal orchard is home to apples, plums, and walnuts.

Garden IX also contains a wide variety of edible plants. “Cox orange” and “pippin” trees line the lower wall, pomegranate shrubs border the edges, and a large fig sits in the center. The garden was originally designed around the McGuffey ash, which stood for one hundred and fifty years before sucombing to disease in 1989. Other plants include Persian lilacs, peonies, viburnums, amelchancier, and clethra.


Garden X is reminiscent of popular Southern styles of the eighteenth century. Kentucky coffee trees and a collection of boxwoods create an old-world atmosphere. An oval lawn is strapped with “elephant ears” and large hollies left over from an earlier garden.

Soil, in many ways, serves as a record for the activities that occur on its surface. Layer upon layer of minerals, organic matter, water, and air document and preserve the past, both of the land and the people. An analysis of the soil is thus a chronicle of history above the ground and a self-preserved record of underground life. The gardens are as integral to Jefferson’s vision of the University’s layout as the Lawn and architecture that frame it, and therefore their histories, as documented by the soil, are equally as important.

Post by Kendall King



Picture of the Neviusia:

Picture of the Albemarle pippin tree:

Picture of the rhonodrenon:

Picture of the amelanchier:




Ruth Caplin Theater Green Roof Observation


Today our group visited the green rooftop on the newly constructed Ruth Caplin Theatre.  I have always seen this rooftop in passing but I’ve never taken the time to actually explore it. As a whole, I was not very impressed with the rooftop but I think with some very simple alterations and additions it could be greatly improved upon. Part of the reason that it didn’t appear as attractive as I think it could be is just because of the season and the lack of blooming plants. Another reason I think I was a bit unimpressed is just because it’s not what I was expecting. I was expecting an actual green rooftop with grass or at least more plants.

image1 image2

After further research though, I am now able to see some interesting aspects that I did not realize at first. It appears as just a concrete rooftop on top of a building with a bunch of rocks and some shrubs. However, it does appear as if the rocks are to incorporate a drip irrigation of some sort. I would classify this green rooftop as a semi-intensive green roof. According to Green Roof Technology, a semi-intensive green roof can use selected perennials, sedums, ornamental grasses, herbs, and little shrubs. The Ruth Caplin Theatre uses a variety of shrubs and some perennials. One of my favorite parts of the rooftop was the fact that it has a plethora of rosemary bushes in the “garden/ shrub” area. I think this could be expanded upon though and more herbs could be planted. Perhaps the Fine Arts Café could even find a way to incorporate these herbs into their food.


I think the main problem with this green rooftop is that it’s not very usable but that’s a problem that I think could be easily fixed. By simply adding more plants and benches or tables, the rooftop would become much more active. I think the University could really benefit from more outdoor study spaces and this rooftop offers the perfect opportunity because of the accessible open space. Another option to increase its aesthetic appeal could be to make it an artscape. By simply adding some statues or artistic pieces such as marble or mosaic tiles in the concrete, its appeal would be highly heightened.


Post by Caroline MacDonald


Different Types of Green Roofs on Grounds

The University of Virginia and the surrounding Charlottesville area have some stunning examples of green roofs. However, these green roofs can vary considerably. As we prepare to analyze them, we want to talk a little about the general benefits of green roofs and the different green roofs we might encounter.

Green roofs are impermeable surfaces that can filter rainwater and reduce storm runoff. Plants on the roof filter not only pollutants from the water, but also pollutants from the air. Green roofs can also provide insulation for the building, saving both energy and money during hotter days. Currently UVA has about 10 green roofs, with hopes of increasing that number in coming years. These green roofs can be classified as intensive, extensive, or somewhere in between. Each type has their own benefits and drawbacks, and a mix of these different types can be found on grounds.

An extensive green roof has a shallow substrate, is relatively light, and is low cost and low maintenance. They are typically composed of mosses or sedums and require little to no irrigation. Examples of this type of green roof at UVA include the Medical Research Building and Garret Hall.

Extensive Green Roof on Garret Hall

An intensive green roof has a very thick substrate. It is very heavy, more expensive, and is more difficult to maintain than an extensive green roof. It also requires irrigation. The substrate is deep enough to support large shrubs or trees, so it can be used for more human-centered purposes, such as gardens or parks.  Examples of this type of green roof on grounds include the Carter Harrison building as well as the Special Collections Library.

The Carter Harrison building featured to the left; The Special Collections Library featured to the right 

These are just a few examples of the green roofs on grounds, and we will go into more detail about specific green roofs and how they were constructed in later posts. Throughout the rest of the semester we hope to visit as many as we can in order to analyze their beauty, use, benefits, and possible improvements. We will also be on the look out for places of future green roofs and how they could be more accessible for student study spaces.

Post by Amanda Demmerle, Second Year, Environmental Science and Environmental Thought & Practice

Photos retrieved from


Bats as a contributor to biodiversity and ecosystems

It is easy to neglect the importance of bats as a contributor to ecosystems because of the nasty background they have. They are related to vampires, rabies, and are thought to be dirty vermin because of their appearance. However, bats play a vital role in various ecosystems without these mammals many ecosystems would be adversely affected. If one looks past the physical appearance of a bat their various jobs can be noted because they are considered to be a keynote species in tropical ecosystems. A keynote species means that if the species was to suddenly disappear then the rest of the food web would collapse. This is because bats are an important pollinator. It is surprising to accept that bats are pollinators because they are not insects and have a large range in size. However, they pollinate many fruits and other vital plants in the tropics. As well their guano (bat poop) is a fertilizer for the plants so they indirectly helps with the growth and production of many plant species.

Bats are important for the North American region because they are able to cross-pollinate flowering plants and disperse seeds of various vegetation. However, their most notable contribution in North America, even here in Charlottesville, is their ability to control pests. Even though homeowners see bats as a nuisance they vastly decrease the amount of mosquitos in our area.  Since bats are nocturnal it is hard to see them at work but the bats in Virginia have the ability to consumer 3,000 mosquitos in one night! A bats diet is not limited to mosquitos. They eat many other insects that can consume and damage crops.  In this way bats save farmers countless dollars that would be spent on pesticides.

The Virginia Wildlife website accounts for three types of bats found in Charlottesville area. The types of bats are the silver haired bat, eastern red bat, and the evening bat. These bats contribute to the biodiversity of the UVA area and should be protected to help control the insect population and help pollinate the wildflowers found in UVA. Now that you know a little more about how bats help habitats you should think twice before squirming if you see them around at night!

Post by Mercedes Talvitie


Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Web. 20 March 2015

“Bats are Important” Bat Conservation International. Web. 20 March 2015      <>

Bats Part II

While a majority of bats are insectivores, other species of bats eat fruit, nectar, and even other mammals. Fruit-eating bats are essentially for spreading seeds in tropical environments. Similarly, nectar-eating bats serve as pollinators for over 300 species of fruit; however, most flower visiting bats live in Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands, so it is unlikely to see a nectar-eating bat in Charlottesville (Bat Conservation). A study of the diets of the seven most common bats in the Central Appalachian Mountains showed that most bats in this area prefer to eat insects. While each specie ate a different percentage of each type of insect, the data in the study demonstrates that bats serve as an important control on insect population in our ecosystem since a single bat can eat a 1000 mosquitos an hour (Carter et al.). Overall, bat’s and their eating habits provide important ecological services. As a result, bat conservation is important for the continued health of our environment.

Around Charlottesville, bats have plenty of food sources due to the billions of insects; however, some species such as the Virginia Big-Eared Bat are endangered. One solution to help these endangered species is bat houses. These artificial roosts serve as effective alternatives for bats who have lost their natural habitat or prefer some aspect of the roost (Bat Conservation). The roosts vary from a simple wooden bat house, similar to a bird house, to a specially designed bat condo. In a study conducted in California, bat houses were shown to attract bat populations to farms, which can help with pest control and reduce the need for pesticide, which saves both money and the environment (Long et al.).


Overall, bat populations in this area are doing relatively well compared to some species around the globe; however, both farmers and some endangered species can benefit from the introduction of bat houses to the area.

Post by Derek Rush

Works Cited

“Bat Conservation International.” Bat Pollination. Bat Conservation International, n.d. Web. 18 Mar. 2015.

“Bat Pollination.” United States Department Of Agriculture. USDA Forest Service, n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2015.

Carter, Timothy C., Michael A. Menzel, Sheldon F. Owen, John W. Edwards, Jennifer M. Menzel, and W. Mark Ford. “Food Habits of Seven Species of Bats in the Allegheny Plateau and Ridge and Valley of West Virginia.” Northeastern Naturalist 10.1 (2003): 83. Web. 20 Mar. 2015.

Long, Rachael F., W. Mark Kiser, and Selena B. Kiser. “Well-placed Bat Houses Can Attract Bats to Central Valley Farms.” California Agriculture 60.2 (2006): 91-94. Web. 20 Mar. 2015.

Thomas Temple Allan Boathouse

One of the most beautiful natural areas at UVA is by the Thomas Temple Allan Boathouse, home to the University of Virginia Women’s and Men’s rowing teams.

Located by the Rivanna river,  on the five miles of reservior, this beautiful scenery is not only full of tough athletes but a very protected biodiversity. There are many laws on the development of the surrounding land as well as ones that limit the recreational activities allowed on the river. These rules keep the waters prestine and let the natural habitat strive.

The water is so well kept it actually acts as a source of drinking water to the Charlottesville area. This clean water attracts many animals. As shown in the above photo there are many different creatures that call the reservoir home. This includes many varieties of fish, ducks, and birds.

The river provides a full immersion with nature. With the open air blowing, the smooth water flowing, and the blissful sounds of the many animals that call this place home it creates a nice escape from the hustle and bustle of the UVA grounds.

Post by Nina Vascotto, Third-Year, Civil Engineer