As our world becomes increasingly urbanized, understanding how to conserve biodiversity while creating landscapes compatible with humans is one of the century's greatest conservation challenges. The broad goal of my current research is to evaluate the conservation value of urban and suburban landscapes for preserving urban diversity. I investigate whether different landscape designs have the potential to alleviate urbanization pressures on avian biodiversity, how landscape features influence native bird distribution, and how people interact with urban nature.

NSF SEES Fellow: Sustainability Begins at Home - US Forest Service Northern Research Station and University of Massachusetts

This research
explores the motivations for and outcomes associated with the stewardship of sustainable yard practices and design, with "sustainable yards" being those that more closely mimic natural processes and vegetation composition and configuration. The research is guided by a conceptual framework that focuses on the poorly understood linkages between the motivation for urban stewardship of sustainable yards, and the ecological outcomes from yard management. The project investigates perspectives on the aesthetic and ecological functions of residential yards through targeted interviews and focus groups with scientists, practitioners and homeowners. A landscape intervention study tests how various lawn mowing regimes in private yards influence insect diversity and soil conditions. Despite the benefits of sustainable yards for improving urban biodiversity and hence, reconnecting urban dwellers with nature, sustainable yards are not implemented at a scale that impacts local or regional sustainability. This research, and associated outreach and education activities, will contribute to our understanding of how to maximize the benefits provided by residential yards for people, biodiversity, and ecosystem processes. Residential yards provide an opportunity for urban dwellers to put into practice the reality that "sustainability begins at home" and to make individual household-level yard management decisions that can scale up and improve city-level sustainability for people and wildlife.

*This project is supported under the NSF Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability Fellows (SEES Fellows) program, with the goal of helping to enable discoveries needed to inform actions that lead to environmental, energy and societal sustainability while creating the necessary workforce to address these challenges. With SEES Fellows support, this project will enable a promising early career researcher to establish themselves in an independent research career related to sustainability.

Urban Wildlife and Biodiversity Initiative - US Forest Service Northern Research Station

program incorporates field data (ranging in scale from complete city-wide tree inventories to random plots located throughout a community to individual private properties) with local conditions (air pollution and meteorological data) and calculates both ecosystem services provided by the urban forest and a monetary value of the urban forest, which includes both environmental and aesthetic benefits. Data from this urban forest assessment program has provided information on the value of urban trees and their capacity to store carbon, mitigate energy costs, and intercept air pollution. Information gathered via i-Tree has helped scientists to link urban forest management with environmental quality, and has assisted managers with planning for the future.
We build on this program to incorporate bird habitat models to calculate the habitat potential of the urban forest at a city-wide scale by linking habitat relationship models with the vegetation datasets from i-Tree projects. Once fully integrated into i-Tree, the tool will be broadly applicable to landscape practitioners, urban planners, and wildlife managers, and will provide a more comprehensive assessment of the ecosystem services provided by the urban forest. In addition, the tool will guide habitat management projects that aim to improve the sustainability of the urban forest for people and wildlife.

The Conservation Value of Residential Landscapes - PhD Research, University of Massachusetts-Amherst

We tested the efficacy of including native plants in residential yards for improving urban diversity as part of the Central Arizona-Phoenix Long Term Ecological Research project (CAP LTER). We monitored birds in residential neighborhoods, measured the local habitat and landscape features, and co-located our sites with US Census data. We used a multivariate approach to identify the factors having the greatest influence on structuring urban bird communities.  In sum, yards with native plants provided habitat for desert specialist bird species. These findings have important applications for urban planners and landscape designers since it provides a scientific basis for instituting native landscapes in residential areas. Our study also demonstrated the importance of including socioeconomic factors in urban ecological studies in order to fully understand human-wildlife interactions in urban settings. Specifically, our study highlighted environmental inequities regarding access to biodiversity: lower income and Hispanic neighborhoods had lower native bird diversity. And finally, our findings showed that urban residents noticed the loss of biodiversity in their yards and generally, were more satisfied in neighborhoods with higher levels of biodiversity. The study was published in Ecological Applications and a copy of the pdf can be found here.