2014 BioGrounds Teams


As part of the Biophilic Cities Launch event in October, we enlisted the help of an entomologist from NC State who did a very quick sample of ant species near the School of Architecture. Some 13 ant species were found. Could we expand and extend this inventory throughout the UVA Grounds, using very similar (low-tech!) baiting techniques? Are the species we found near Campbell representative of the larger ant diversity and patterns of diversity found around UVA? In devising a sampling plan you will want to think about what species will likely be found in what different types of habitats (e.g. forests vs. turfgrass lawns). It might also be great to sample in some spaces where we know Facilities Management has been applying herbicides and other chemicals. Amy Savage at NC State will hopefully be able to assist this team.

Aquatic life

This team will focus its work on understanding the life found in the several prominent water environments on Grounds, including the Dell storm water pond and the daylit portion of Meadow Creek.  The team will want to learn about basic techniques of biological sampling of streams and ponds. Several EnvSci classes have been monitoring water quality at the Dell pond and the team will want to find and review this work. There is a volunteer group in the community called StreamWatch that could be extremely helpful in conducting the biological sampling and monitoring. Could some members of the team go through the StreamWatch training (this would be a good idea)?


At this time of year there are few if any bats around to observe as most have migrated or are in hibernation caves. But bats are an important part of the fauna here at UVA and the team should begin by thinking about how they might assemble and collect information about bats and bat biology. What do we know about the species likely to live here at least part of the year and where are they likely to be found? Are there special bat habitats on Grounds, for instance belfries or steeples or other similar habitats? Is there a way to survey building managers or others who may have sighted bats or had some experience with bats in the past? When will bats reappear here in the spring and where can we look for them?

Birds (Generally)

To what degree do birds find a home here on Grounds, and what is the diversity of bird life that we see or could see if we looked? Are particular species more prevalent or prominent, and are there particular parts of Grounds that support greater bird life? How might you inventory bird life over the course of the semester, perhaps enlisting the help of local expert birders who might be able to facilitate a bird count just by listening to the calls of birds?  Do migrating birds pass through Grounds and how can we better understand this? Are there existing data, for instance, from local/regional weather radar that might be helpful in tracking and monitoring migratory birds?

Birds (Mortality)

We know that in many cities, bird-building collisions are a significant form of mortality. How much of a problem is this for birds here on Grounds or passing through Grounds during migratory periods? How can we estimate actual mortality? Are there particular buildings, with particular glass or other design elements that are especially likely to cause mortality?

Birds (Night Flight Calls)

The challenge for this team will be to devise a way to record, capture and analyze the many fascinating sounds that are made by migratory birds as they pass through our region. How can these recordings be used to shed light on what species are moving through and around UVA? When and from where should recordings be made, and are there already birders in the region monitoring Night Flight Calls (NFC’s)? You may initially need to learn from someone (a birder or birding group?) who has made these recordings already, and has recommendations about the kind of recording devices you will need.

Edible Trees and Plants

Nature’s bounty includes important sources of food—berries, nuts, herbs, etc—and many of the source trees and plants can be found on Grounds. This team will inventory these edible species, placing them, as well as other food producing spaces, on a map of the Grounds. Part of the work might be to understand the role these edibles already have—do students and faculty already forage or collect from them?  Is there a history of foraging from certain trees and shrubs, while edibles in other parts of the Grounds have been ignored or forgotten? There have been efforts in the past to develop a foraging map or trail and an initial task will be to try to track down this earlier work.


What kinds of fungi are found on Grounds? Perhaps the place to start is to think about where abundance is likely—tree limbs and along the bark surfaces of trees, perhaps for fungi moist environments and at the base of trees. Is it possible to determine from the literature what the best habitats are likely to be, and then to devise a sampling strategy for these high-probability sites? For identifying fungi, the team will want to familiarize itself with techniques for taking spore samples, and for photographically documenting specimens for later identification. Is there is a local fungi group and/or a local lichen expert that might be able to assist the team?

Green rooftops

We now have a number of examples of extensive green rooftops here at UVA (Commerce School building, Newcomb Hall) but little biological research or monitoring of them has occurred. How would you go about doing this, to determine how much life visits and is supported by these ecological rooftops? Can we sample invertebrates there, count birds, record the floral diversity (including volunteer species?)? How does the biology of these rooftops change over time (seasonally, day-night)? Not all of these rooftops will be equally accessible and perhaps the team might select one to work on.

Life in soils

A key question is how diverse are the soil communities on Grounds and how much biodiversity does our soil support? Is it possible to do some soil sampling at various sites around Grounds to get a sense of the diversity of life, and the spatial variation of this diversity? Are there other important qualities of soil that need to be understood and studied? What existing soil maps are currently available for UVA?

Micro-organisms of interior spaces

The goal is to get a better sense of the microbial diversity and complexity the exists in a sampling of dorm rooms and other spaces, as well as off-Grounds houses and homes. For this team’s work we are hoping to engage Rob Dunn’s lab at NC State. Specifically, we have discussed Dunn’s group helping us collect microbial swab samples, to be sent to and analyzed by the lab there. Early contact with Prof. Dunn (who will be visiting our class in early March) is recommended.

Nature Observations / Nature Views

This team will need to identify the best views of nature on Grounds. Are there topographic or other factors that help determine where the best views are, and are they from offices, classrooms, or dorms? Are there especially prominent natural features that make up these nature views (trees, mountains, other?) and/or especially important viewing points? One thinks of the spectacular views from some floors of the UVA Medical center, but are there other cherished views that should be recorded, celebrated, protected?

Nocturnal life

Utilizing camera traps (and other methods) document and study the extent and variety of nighttime species found around Grounds. What can we determine about different species we are likely to see in different parts of the Grounds? Are there places (e.g. trash dumpsters) especially attractive to certain species? Are there times of the night where nocturnal movement or activity is the greatest?

Trees and forests

There are extensive numbers of trees on Grounds, as well as places (Observatory Hill) where there are larger blocks of contiguous forest. The team should focus on understanding what forest habitats exist, and the diversity of species (including the many non-native) species of trees. The first step might be to determine whether there is a comprehensive landscape plan that might have an a tree inventory as part of it.  In addition to understanding trees and forests from a biodiversity and biological perspective, they also sequester carbon—Prof Hank Shugart of the EnvSci department has already done some work on this and the team should seek to find and review this work. Is there a local forester or forestry group who might help the team in understanding the diversity of trees on Grounds? There is a group called the Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards that might be enlisted to help.