Urban Agriculture as a science: how biocomplexity and crop variety affect pest prevalence and dispersal through an urban landscape
Mentor: Theresa Ong
The emergence of urban agriculture in cities around the world provides a convenient landscape to test questions of spatially-explicit ecological dynamics. Can wildlife successfully travel between patchworks of habitat in otherwise inhospitable urban environments? To answer this question, we can look to pests, nature’s best migrants, for an answer. In agriculture, one pest may have several natural enemies, which together prevent crop devastation. But this observation conflicts with the traditional ecological theory that two organisms cannot coexist on the same, limited resource. Biocomplexity may provide a loophole to this conundrum in the form of non-linear relationships between competitors, where competitors having negative effects on one another limit exploitation of shared resources and thus help maintain diversity in the system. Crop diversity in urban gardens provides another layer of complication to the relationship between natural enemies. If pests are kept under damaging levels by complex interaction networks of organisms, how well do these systems remain intact across diversity gradients and the urban landscape as a whole? We will apply field, theoretical, and lab work towards understanding the patterns and mechanisms of pest and natural enemy dispersal through urban areas. We will concentrate our work in Ann Arbor, but there may be opportunities to explore similar questions in Detroit, or even Puerto Rico. Students interested in any or a combination of field identification of insects, dynamic host/pathogen/predator population modeling, GIS, and possible genetic analyses of aphid populations to track field dispersal are encouraged to apply.