One year ago, I left the land of cheese, beer, and badgers in search of new experiences and meaningful work.
Thanks to the Student Conservation Association and AmeriCorps, I’ve lived, worked, and played in four different states. My most recent stint has landed me in the Steel City. After spending months in New York and Florida, Pittsburgh has the comforting feeling that I remember from Midwestern cities closer to home. The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy has welcomed me with open arms, and I’m already knee deep in a series of projects to be completed by Fall.
My primary project involves invasive species and their phenology. Phenology is the study of the significant stages in life cycles of plants and animals, e.g. the times of the year when garlic mustard leafs, flowers, seeds, and dies. My goal with the Parks Conservancy is to research when and where invasive plants grow in the parks to aid in strategic restoration of those areas.
Already I’ve spent a significant amount of time hiking and crawling around Pittsburgh’s parks documenting the activity of plants. It wasn't surprising to find that weeks of hot weather and reliable spring rainfall triggered quick, early growth for many plant species, including invasive plants. Garlic mustard was ready to begin seeding in early May. Poison hemlock started flowering a few weeks later. Usually, those plants' life stages occur one month later than we're seeing, but seasonal and inter-annual climate patterns have drastic effects on plant phenology. Cool and extremely wet springs can cause delayed growth. Warm temperatures and moderate precipitation -- which Pittsburgh experienced this year -- caused early growth.
The effects of climate change can already be seen and will continue to influence the timing of plant and animal life cycles.
The general pattern of plant phenology will keep leaning towards earlier growth as global average temperatures rise. My research will be used by the Park Management and Maintenance team at the Parks Conservancy as they work to control invasive plants. Invasives have the potential to drastically change the parks as they out-compete local plants. I'll be making an interactive map showcasing when, where, and which species need to be managed, giving staff the tools to better fight invasives.
Using similar strategies, I will be looking at species diversity in the parks and discovering methods to prioritize and improve restoration sites. I will be keeping an eye out for the Asian Longhorned Beetle and predicting the potential impact it could have on our park trees. I will also be the volunteer crew leader for invasive sweeps at Highland Park on the second Thursday of each month (you can register for these here).
The next time you're out in the parks, be sure to keep an eye out. There's a tall, blond Wisconsinite roaming a park near you!
Ryan Klausch is from Wisconsin, but his name is not Yon Yonson. He's serving as an SCA Green Cities Sustainability Corps Fellow through the rest of this year.
Learn how to remove invasive plants like the ones Ryan is studying at the upcoming Urban EcoSteward training on June 9th. It's free and open to the public. Register here!