The role of green stormwater infrastructure in supporting plant biodiversity and ecosystem services along an urban greenway in Colorado

Date: 11/1/2021
Principal Researchers: Laurel Hartley and Christina Alba

Unit: Department of Integrative Biology

Project Abstract: This project is a collaboration among researchers from the Department of Integrative Biology and Denver Botanic Gardens, with a community-building and outreach partnership with the High Line Canal Conservancy. Colorado is a critical headwater state that will face increasing water scarcity and water quality issues under climate change. Green stormwater infrastructure (GSI), which leverages natural systems and hydrology to hold and clean incoming stormwater, is one tool for managing this resource challenge. The High Line Canal, a 71-mile greenway that passes within one mile of 350,000 urban dwellers along Colorado’s semi-arid Front Range, is currently being enhanced with GSI, with exceptional potential to provide ecological and socio-economic benefits to the surrounding community. With this funding, we will adapt our current, pilot-scale research on how GSI shapes plant diversity and soil quality to be deployed by jurisdictional partners at the scale of the entire Canal. We will also use this funding to conduct public outreach and incorporate graduate student education components into our research efforts. Finally, the work will be integrated into an undergraduate research experience course in urban ecology at CU Denver. 

laurel-hartley-editedLaurel Hartley Bio: Laurel Hartley PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Integrative Biology, University of Colorado Denver. Dr. Hartley is an Associate Professor of Integrative Biology and a CU President’s Teaching Scholar. She joined the CU Denver faculty after completing a postdoctoral position at Michigan State University and a PhD in Biology at Colorado State University. Dr. Hartley conducts research in both ecology and science education. Dr. Hartley has studied the effects of introduced bubonic plague on both urban and rural black-tailed prairie dog communities in Colorado. She is interested in indirect effects of disease on ecological communities and ecosystem processes. Additionally, Dr. Hartley heads the Denver site for the Urban Wildlife Information Network, which is a cross city collaboration to understand more about how factors of urbanization influence wildlife biodiversity. As part of this work, she studies how undergraduate students can contribute to authentic ecological research through Course Based Undergraduate Research Experiences (CUREs). Students at CU Denver tag photos of urban wildlife from the 40 wildlife cameras in Denver. Dr. Hartley is excited to start this new urban greenway project because it is a chance to further her research in urban ecology, to work with former graduate school colleague Christina Alba, and to bring another facet of urban ecology to students who take the Urban Ecology CURE at CU Denver.

chrissy-alba-editedpngChristina Alba Bio: 
Christina Alba PhD, Assistant Research Scientist, Denver Botanic Gardens, Affiliate Faculty, Department of Integrative Biology, University of Colorado Denver. Christina Alba is an assistant research scientist at Denver Botanic Gardens. She studies the ecological processes that shape plant diversity and distributions across various scales of organization--from individual plants, to populations, to entire communities. She has studied how biological invasions, grazing, climate change, fire, and rapid adaptation to novel environments affect plant biodiversity. Her current research addresses how in situ vegetation and soils shape the function of green stormwater infrastructure in urban green spaces. Dr. Alba holds a PhD in Ecology from Colorado State University and completed postdoctoral research at the University of Florida and at the Czech Academy of Sciences, Institute of Botany.

Photo Credit: Denver Water

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