Pittsburgh bioblitz: biological inventory of an urban high school’s oasis

This post contributed by Lorna Moreno, SEEDS student from the AKKA SEEDS Chapter of the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras.

Just down the street from the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in downtown Pittsburgh—where the Ecological Society of America (ESA) is holding its 95th Annual Meeting this week—is a vacant lot adopted by the City Charter High School. Last Sunday, ESA ecologists and students visited the lot which is being restored by the 10th graders of the City Charter High School in coordination with the Student Conservation Association (SCA).

During the SEEDS Educational Outreach Initiative (SEOI) field trip, the City High students had the opportunity to present this two-year project—in which they are transforming this vacant lot into a green space in the city—to the attending ecologists and students. Afterward, the ecologists and students conducted a “bioblitz” in the area; a bioblitz is an intensive field study in which volunteers take a biological inventory of an area—in this case, the transformed vacant lot—and identify all living species in that area.

One of the goals of the field trip was to provide the high school students with census skills which will allow them to conduct more bioblitzes in years to come, and hence monitor the diversity and development of their plot. Undoubtedly, students play important roles in ecology; if they are included in conservation efforts, our achievements can be not just greater but longer lasting as well. SEOI builds the needed bridge between academia and the community, and this could be the key to addressing our most pressing environmental issues.

“For me the most insightful part of the trip was when Nida Lapsys from the City High and previously PSCA gave a presentation on the cultural history of The Hill,” said Charlee Glenn, ESA Diversity Programs Assistant.  In addition to being a dumping ground for refrigerators, tires and other unwanted items, the area was also known for cultural tensions and crime.  Said Glenn: “Students of City High are now leading by example and cleaning up their once unsafe community.”

Further, two City High students attended the meeting yesterday to be mentored by SEEDS students. The opportunity allowed them to increase their interest in ecology and learn about the importance of including ecology in community initiatives. Through these activities, SEEDS took ecology outside the meeting and linked scientists, teachers, students and local communities. And in the process, they contributed directly to the development of action-oriented ecology.

“The SEEDS students again led the SEOI field trip with expertise and praise,” said Melissa Armstrong, ESA Diversity Programs Manager. “Organizing such an event from a distance required a whole year of planning, and the students went the extra mile in connecting the ESA members, local ecologists, volunteers and Pittsburgh community in the name of biodiversity in urban areas.”

Photo Credit: Charlee Glenn