Urban Ecosystem Analysis MOD

New Haven

The goal of this module is to acquaint students with field skills for characterizing and understanding urban ecosystems. It is designed to complement the Yale Myers module, which uses an ecosystem framework and examines comparatively undisturbed systems. In contrast, the urban module explicitly considers how the actions of humans and the existence of the built environment alter ecosystem structure and function. Throughout this module, students will also gain a better understanding of the New Haven community, including its resources, history, and challenges. At the same time this module is an opportunity to explore themes and techniques which are especially well-suited for human dominated environments. An emphasis is also placed on qualitative methods and social science research, to complement quantitative methods highlighted at Yale Myers.
MODs Urban map
The MOD puts primary focus on a Beaver Ponds Park and its adjacent New Haven neighborhoods, examining it from a variety of perspectives, scales, and methodologies. The core of the MOD study area is a 109-acre urban park where volunteers have a long history of citizen stewardship. Leaders from two park ‘friends’ groups will meet with students to share their priorities and concerns. Throughout the week, we will ask students to reflect on how we develop and manage greenspaces and how park management decisions can make access and use of these spaces more or less equitable. Our first field activity on Monday will be a comprehensive guided tour of the park, stopping to explore its many features at several locations. Prior to field visit is a brief lecture that serves to introduce students to the history of environmentalism in the United States, locating contemporary concerns about social and environmental justice in the longer history of the conservation movement. This history is particularly relevant to our understanding the management of urban ecosystems. Additionally, students will get a brief history of New Haven, focusing on key social, political and economic moments that have shaped the urban landscape. Central themes of environmental justice from this lecture will be revisited throughout the week.

Next, students will be trained in plant identification and the use of dichotomous keys, among the most important and widely used observational methods in ecosystem science. Plant ID will be integrated into subsequent fieldwork during the week. In addition, each morning, students will take turns giving a brief (2 min.) prepared presentation on the importance and natural history of an assigned plant species, a long standing MOD tradition.

Next we will focus on using GPS to gather data and GIS (Geographic Information Systems) to perform analysis on spatial relationships of both tree cover and the human communities. Using smart phones as handheld GPS units, students will gather data either on the location, size and species of street trees or on siting potential for green infrastructure interventions. For both of these exercises, GIS will be used later to view and analyze the collected data, looking for patterns and trends with the ArcGIS software suite.

Students will also make a mid-day visit to local parks to observe their use by people in relation to design and the fabric of the local community. In cities, the built environment can radically alter natural ecosystem functioning. A good example of this is how the hydrologic cycle is redirected and changed in other ways by the street drain system. In the field, students will be shown how belowground water conveyance infrastructure is evident at the surface in the form of catch basins, utility access covers, hydrants, and the like.  During the GIS exercise, students will be shown how areas of the city contribute water flows to the park pond. This serves as a starting point for a discussion of water quality issues in the pond and how they might be addressed based on knowledge of the sewershed and its characteristics. Litter is then used as a water quality problem that can be addressed within an urban watershed framework. Discarded materials will be collected, characterized, and quantified for plots on the banks of the pond. Together this information will be used to evaluate sources, transport, and fate of pollutants, data analysis techniques, and management approaches to reduce litter and other substances that can degrade urban storm water quality. This exercise has the added benefit of removing litter from a significant area of the Park’s fragile near-littoral zone.

On the final day, students will work with citizen volunteers undertaking restoration work at Beaver Ponds Park. Building on students’ previous work in and around the park, volunteers from the two park friends groups will share the goals they hope to achieve in the stewardship of the park. Restoration work will include activities ranging from the removal of invasive species and clearing debris, to planting trees and shrubs.

In recent years, students have ridden bikes to reach study sites within the City of New Haven, instead of taking buses. This turned out to be a green, cost-effective option, and gave students the opportunity to see neighborhoods up close. (Alternative transport was provided for the small number of students that could not, or simply preferred not to travel by bike.) Bikes are provided to all students who do not have their own; it is quite a fleet! We will use the same approach again this year, as evaluations at the end of the MODs almost universally raved about how informative and enjoyable it was to bike the city.

Be Prepared for New Haven

What to bring to Urban MODs every day:
  • MODs Urban Ecosystem Manual
  • Water bottle
  • Lunch/snacks/drinks (on Tuesday and Wednesday, you can also choose to purchase lunch at the food carts)
  • Bring your own plate, cup, and cutlery to all the dinners (Mon, Tues, Wed).
  • Rain gear and/or sunblock depending on weather
  • Comfortable footwear – You will be walking and biking
  • Notebook/clipboard and pencil or pen
Items the School Supplies You With
  • All field supplies (except notebooks and pencils),
  • Loan of plant identification guides
  • Loan of bike and helmet (limited supply)
Hazards to Be Aware Of
  • Poison ivy
  • ticks
  • yellow jacket stings
  • If you are allergic prepare with proper medications and let your TAs know! We will do a safety orientation at each MOD, so don’t be concerned if you are not familiar with these local pests. We’ll make sure you are prepared.

Start each day at 8:15AM

Meet each day in Bowers, Sage Hall at 8:15 a.m.
MODs Urban before
Before clean-up of invasive plant species
MODs Urban before after
After clean-up of invasive plant species
MODs Urban bikes
MODs Urban bucket
MODs Urban notebook
MODs Urban porch
MODs Urban West Rock
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