Socio-ecological Interactions Between Insects, Plants, and People in Urban Gardens

Mentor & Lab: Azucena Lucatero – Philpott Lab

Positions: 1 intern

Tentative dates: June – August 2022

Project Location: Lab work on the the Main Campus and field work in community gardens in Monterey, Santa Cruz, and Santa Clara counties.

Project Background: Urban community gardens provide habitat and resources for urban biodiversity, including ecosystem service providers like insects. Interactions between insects, plants, and people support ecosystem services like pollination, soil maintenance, and biological pest control in urban ecosystems. Since 2012, the Philpott Lab has surveyed the habitat characteristics of over 28 urban gardens (e.g. plant diversity, canopy cover, ground cover) as well as the characteristics of the landscape surrounding gardens (agricultural, urban, natural, and open land cover types). Broadly, our goal is to investigate how local and landscape characteristics of gardens relate to various insect taxa (e.g. carabid beetles, coccinellid beetles, ants, bees, parasitoids) and ecosystem services. Recently, the Philpott Lab has focused on understanding 1) ecological networks of insects associated with garden crops and correlations with ecosystem services, and 2) the role of plant and insect traits in the delivery of ecosystem services.

Intern duties: Interns will work with their mentor to define a research question and carry out their investigation through work in the field and in the lab. Fieldwork includes approximately monthly trips to ~20 gardens in the California Central coast over the span of a week. Field activities typically include observing and collecting insect specimens (live or preserved in ethanol) and surveying garden plants. Days in the field are long, lasting up to 10-12 hours (including driving time) but are not overnight. Lab work may include rearing live specimens collected from the gardens, identifying insects under microscopes, and potentially pinning or dissecting insects. Additionally, interns will conduct data entry and analysis. Finally, interns will develop a research poster or a talk where they will present their findings from the summer. Should COVID restrict field and lab activities, students are able to work with existing data sets to explore research questions.

Intern qualifications: Insect and garden crop identification skills are a plus, but formal training is not required (only enthusiasm to learn). During field work, students can expect to encounter diverse gardeners who may speak different languages. Interns should anticipate handling insects (with forceps) and participating in long garden fieldwork days involving lots of crouching and standing, at times under very hot and sunny conditions. Experience with research protocols, data management, and data analysis (using excel, R) are appreciated but also not required.

Do you recommend the intern(s) volunteer in your lab during Spring quarter?
Students could get involved in the spring quarter by joining weekly Philpott lab meetings, where lab members present works in progress related to research on urban gardens, agroecology, and insect ecology. Interns would not be required to attend (or present) but could start getting to know the lab and the garden system by listening in on these research talks.

UC Santa Cruz Land Acknowledgement

The land from which we base our work is the unceded territory of the Awaswas-speaking Uypi Tribe. The Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, comprised of the descendants of indigenous people taken to missions Santa Cruz and San Juan Bautista during Spanish colonization of the Central Coast, is today working hard to restore traditional stewardship practices on these lands and heal from historical trauma.