It is really and truly summer now. Are your gardens and parks full of the sound, movements, and magic of winged life – the fluttering of moths at your white flowers, at the porch or street-lights each evening? Dragonflies, mosquitos, bumblebees, and flower flies dancing across your flowers and grasses by day? National Pollinator Week is June 20 – 26, and this week we’re in conversation with Dr. Monika Egerer, pollination ecologist at the Technical University of Munich sharing more about the importance of well-designed urban gardens for pollinator support.
Monika researches the ecology and management of production-oriented ecosystems in and around cities. Ecosystems like our home gardens wherever we may garden, but she is particularly interested in urban area gardens. Monika pursues an interdisciplinary research approach that analyzes connections between biodiversity, environmental and climate protection, ecosystem services, and social-ecological issues in urban agricultural systems. A strong focus of her team's work is on the role of insects and plant biodiversity in urban ecosystems, specifically in the context of habitat management, urbanization and climate change. Cool stuff.
Monika has been on the ground analyzing the contributions of gardened spaces to our urban lives with the Stacy Philphott Lab at the University of California Santa Cruz, at the TU of Berlin, and now at TUM. In every location her data leads her to an ever deeper appreciation of the fact that gardener's who incorporate their own needs with the needs of the environment around them add significant biodiversity and ecosystem support in their places. An agroecological approach and seeing our gardens as 'habitats' from the outset being key.
And a little wildness....
With the EU and Germany specifically at the epicenter of invaluable research these past 20 years or so into our global decline in insect life (happening since 1968), it’s not surprising that they would also be at the forefront of research into how to help offset such losses with proactive positive garden culture.
Here is an article Monika refers to in our conversation regarding some of the findings of her work these past 10 or so years, which I think you will find interesting - I did: https://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol25/iss4/art8/
May every day be about sustaining the full scope of life and liveliness in our gardens.
Prof. Egerer studied Environmental Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz for her PhD. After several research stays in Australia, she joined the Institute of Ecology at the Technical University of Berlin as an IPODI postdoctoral fellow in 2019. In 2020, Prof. Egerer was appointed to the professorship for Urban Productive Ecosystems in the TUM School of Life Sciences (Life Science Systems).
To follow Monika's Work at TUM online, go to: https://www.professoren.tum.de/en/egerer-monika ; and on Instagram at: @urbanscientista
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JOIN US again next week, when we are in conversation with K Greene, founder of Hudson Valley Seed, a values based seed company focused on biodiversity and storytelling and situated in New York’s Hudson Valley, sharing more about the depth and breadth of the seed world in our world just in time for our mid-summer successional sowings. Listen in!
ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF Dr. Monika Egerer, All Rights Reserved
Thinking out loud this week:
IN 2020, Dr. Egerer published a joint paper for Ecology and Society summarizing some of her research findings from work in the US in 2017 regarding gardens, gardeners, and plant diversity richness. Here is the full link: https://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol25/iss4/art8/
The team’s findings are pretty phenomenal.
Urban gardens managed with agroecological practices and higher plant diversity support more biodiversity and may support higher crop production too – seems intuitive, but Monika and her team and demonstrating the extent of this truth – which is a catalyst for more . We found that gender, region of origin, time spent gardening, and gardener motivations all influenced plant richness or composition. Specifically, women plant more plant species overall than men, especially more medicinal and ornamental flowering plants, and individual gardeners motivated by nature connection tend to plant strongly different plant compositions in their gardens than gardeners with different motivations. They found that region of national origin strongly influences crop composition in a home garden, which can often translate into more plant diversity. And a strong take away from her collaborative research is that “assuring access to gardens for all groups may boost plant richness and support ecosystem services in urban spaces.”
The conclusions note that with all research to date, it is apparent that the greater the access to garden in urban areas, the greater importance those urban gardens are as components of truly green infrastructure for the urban area - simultaneously supporting biodiversity conservation, ecosystem services, and enhanced human well-being.
That’s research well worth learning from and continuing to fund my garden friends. It’s up to us to help support such work – and gardens – in our own urban areas. Good reminders to get growing, keep growing.
I have recently been immersed in a longterm project that you will hear more about I time but that required I research the superfund sites across the US – those sites in literally every state in the nation so poisoned by human industry, exploitation, and neglect that they cannot repair themselves and we cannot allow human life near them. This was a profoundly affecting focus for me. With the constant stress of knowing we as humans often get life on earth wrong – and not just a little wrong – but often hard core very very wrong wreaking havoc on the lives of bats, bears, borderlands, forests, rivers, ocean life, even the life of ice in the arctic. To be in conversation with Monika about her research verifying that gardens managed agroecologically – meaning with both food production and ecological care in mine – especially gardens with even a little wild in them – are significant contributors to plant biodiversity, and insect biodiversity support. Contributors to better soil, air, and water. That’s potent stuff.
And I like that wild bit. I like the idea of dead wood, and little weediness, and a little seediness as being proxy or analogs for what we think of as wild – not the backcountry in Yosemite – but a dead log, a stretch of seed heads. A handful of native plants not overcontrolled. Gary Nabhan wrote something along the lines the prime result of breeding all the wild out of something – turkeys, echinacea, gardens, humans – is that that organism no longer has appropriate instinctual responses to the world around them – they no longer know how to make basic decisions in the best interest of their own survival. They cannot stand on their own two legs, or stems. We no longer make decisions on our communal longterm best interest (not sure when we last did?)
Maybe as we work on rewilding our gardens in even small ways, we work on the rewilding of us too?
That’s an interdisciplinary field I am all for.... I will gladly meet you there.
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