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

Azucena Lucatero and Edith Gonzales – Philpott Lab

Positions: 2 interns

Tentative dates: May – September 2021

Project Location: Community gardens in the California Central Coast (Monterey, Santa Cruz, and Santa Clara Counties)

Project Background: Urban community gardens, as shaped by the diversity of gardeners who animate them, provide habitat and resources for urban biodiversity, including ecosystem service providers like insects. Through interactions between insects, plants, and people, gardens contribute pollination, soil maintenance, and biological pest control to 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 service delivery. Recently, the Philpott Lab has focused on understanding 1) ecological networks of insects associated with specific garden crops, including Brassica oleracea and Cucurbitaceae, and their correlations with ecosystem services, and 2) the impacts of small scale, ecologically informed changes in garden management (such as adding a mulch layer to soil). One of the projects starting this summer will survey Cucurbitaceae by documenting their insect visitors, herbivory, and crop loss in the garden. Crop and insect surveys will be complemented by gardener surveys which will aim to identify social and ecological factors that contribute to varietal selection, pest identification, and management practices.

Intern duties: Interns will work with mentors to define a research question and carry out their investigation through work in the field and in the lab. Fieldwork includes 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, either live or in ethanol. Days in the field are long, lasting up to 10-12 hours (including driving time) but are not overnight. Lab work includes rearing live specimens collected from the gardens, identifying insects under microscopes, and potentially dissecting insects. Additionally, interns will conduct data entry and analysis and will be encouraged to keep a notebook for reflections and record keeping. 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, mentors can help students 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 (just enthusiasm to learn). We also welcome students comfortable interacting with 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?
We would welcome early involvement in the spring quarter, for example, by attending weekly lab meetings where interns can start getting to know the team and the garden system. However, it’s not required.

We are very excited about mentoring students! Mentorship has facilitated our current positions as PhD students. We embrace the generative capacity of this opportunity to produce new ways of knowing, thinking, and engaging with the world.

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.”