We are currently looking for a Research Fellow for an exciting, interdisciplinary, 4 year postdoc looking at the use of nature based prescribing to treat loneliness!
1x part time (0.5FTE), fixed term (4 years) position available
Salary Level at Academic Level B1 ($100,465) + 17% Super
Be part of global multidisciplinary research team within the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies and work on a project investigating the use of nature based prescribing to address loneliness in cities
About the Role and Project As the Research Fellow, you will work with Professor Sarah Bekesy and Professor Katherine Johnson in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, on the NHMRC Horizon 2020/ EU funded project RECETAS: Re-Imagining Environments for Connection and Engagement: Testing actions for Social Prescribing in Natural Spaces.
Green roofs are a peculiar kind of designed habitat. In already highly urbanised areas, where there is large pressure on efficient land use, green roof retrofits are a key strategy to bring back nature without losing building capital.
While green roofs are known to have many economic and social benefits, such as stormwater retention and thermal buffering, their usefulness as wildlife habitat remains an open question. Multiple studies record insects, birds, spiders and other animals existing on green roofs, but there is little known as to how (and if) they are subsisting, or indeed what they are doing up there.
This is the focus of a new study by ICON Science researchers Georgia Garrard and Katherine Berthon, and research assistant Jess Baumann, who are setting out to document how animals (particularly birds and insects) are using green roofs in the City of Melbourne by monitoring two new green roof retrofit developments. This project is funded under the City of Melbourne ‘Green Our Rooftop’ initiative, and uses a large new green roof retrofit that is set to be constructed on 1 Treasury Place in Fitzroy, as well as the innovative Melbourne Skyfarm that will replace the top level of the Siddeley Street Carpark in Docklands.
Monitoring a green roof retrofit before and after its construction is an ideal way to answer some of the tricky questions about the secret life of rooftop animals. For example, we don’t yet fully understand the value of a single roof, the primary pathways by which animals come to live or forage on a roof, and whether there is any movement of animals between rooftops.
It is often not acknowledged that some invertebrates (like spiders and flies) and some birds (like the Peregrine Falcons nesting on 367 Collins St) are capable of using bare roof spaces. Knowing this baseline of buzzing activity helps us know what animals have been attracted after a green roof is installed. This allows us to quantify the added value of a new green roof in the landscape.
It is likely, however, that the construction of a green roof is so disturbing and prolonged for a site that it might wipe the slate clean. This is where monitoring the site immediately after construction is important – it tells us the first-comers, and potentially highlights stowaways that have been transported onto the roof with the plants or in the soil. Perhaps surprisingly, snails have been found in large quantities on some green roofs, many stories high – likely as a result of hitch-hiking on plant material during roof installation.
We will also monitor nearby ground sites that might act as sources of animals that appear on the new green roofs. This may also show whether anything that is transported onto the roof might spill over into adjacent environments. Often soils and plants used in green roof construction come from far away, and can create assemblages of species that are atypical of the regional area. Finally, monitoring adjacent roof sites helps answer whether there is any spill over effects that might generate synergistic or additive effects of multiple green roofs popping up in the landscape.
During our study we will also be recording specific plant-insect interactions so we can not only know what insects are up on the roof, but what they are using it for. Pre-covid lockdown we had just finished collecting the baseline data to show what’s happening before the roofs have been constructed. Not surprisingly there wasn’t much happening on the bare roofs except for a few spiders and flies, whereas ground sites were still bustling with summer insect life.
At the end of our study we hope to know a little more about what makes a green roof good for biodiversity. Importantly, we want to avoid making roofs that act as “ecological traps” by enticing animals to live there without adequately fulfilling their life-cycle needs. Already we know that some ground nesting birds, whose nestlings are left to fend for themselves after hatching, find low reproductive success on green roofs. Solitary bees also struggle to produce viable offspring on roofs above 5 stories high. So, how do we create green roofs that provide the right resources, especially for breeding? To stay tuned follow the ICON blog or follow me on Twitter @CityKat75
Baumann, N. (2006) Ground-nesting birds on green roofs in Switzerland: Preliminary observations. Urban Habitats 4 (1), 37-50.
MacIvor, J.S. (2015) Building height matters: nesting activity of bees and wasps on vegetated roofs. Israel Journal of Ecology & Evolution (ahead-of-print), 1-9.
Madre, F. et al. (2013) A comparison of 3 types of green roof as habitats for arthropods. Ecological Engineering 57, 109-117.
Williams, N.S. et al. (2014) Do green roofs help urban biodiversity conservation? Journal of Applied Ecology 51 (6), 1643-1649.
Shafique, M. et al. (2018) Green roof benefits, opportunities and challenges – A review. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 90, 757-773.
The health and well-being of urban residents is intrinsically linked to green spaces and their biodiversity. Yet little is known about the mechanisms through which green space design delivers biodiversity and human well-being benefits. Through our recently funded Australian Research Council – Linkage Project ‘Designing green spaces for biodiversity and human well-being’ (LP160100324) we aim to discover those mechanisms, contributing to theoretical knowledge about socio-ecological interactions, and to practical knowledge about effective urban design. We aim to:
1. Investigate the mechanisms linking green space design to biodiversity outcomes;
2. Investigate the mechanisms linking green space to human well-being; and
3. Develop best practice urban design guidelines that reflect these mechanisms and supports biodiversity and human well-being.
The involvement of a major city council (The City of Melbourne), an international consulting agency (Arup), a landscape design firm (Phillip Johnson Landscapes) and an environmental NGO (Greening Australia) as Partner Organisations provides a unique opportunity to ensure the results of our project will have an impact on urban greening practice.
The Chief Investigators in this ARC-Linkage Project are: A/Prof Sarah Bekessy (RMIT University), A/Prof Richard Fuller (University of Queensland), A/Prof Dieter Hochuli (University of Sydney), Dr Fiona Fidler (University of Melbourne), Dr Cecily Maller (RMIT University), Dr Ascelin Gordon (RMIT University), Dr Georgia Garrard (RMIT University), Dr Christopher Ives (University of Nottingham), Dr Luis Mata (RMIT University) and A/Prof Adrian Dyer (RMIT University).
How many insect species live in your city? How are they distributed amongst the city’s green spaces? What are the ecological processes they perform and ecosystem services they deliver? What are their most frequent ecological interactions?
The Little Things that Run the City is a project that aims to address these and other questions within the boundaries of the City of Melbourne, Australia. Results stemming from this research are contributing to identify particular insects with key functional roles that benefit human city dwellers, determine where to prioritise conservation activities, guide the design and maintenance of green spaces, and assist city’s decision-makers in considering insects in broader biodiversity plans and strategies.
The project was inspired by Edward O. Wilson’s famous quote “…let me say a word on behalf of these little things that run the world”. Almost 30 years ago, he was keen to see that the circle of concern for animal conservation was beginning to encompass non-vertebrate animals. In this project we sought to further expand this circle so that it may also encompass the conservation of insects and other invertebrates in urban environments. Join us as we say a word on behalf of the little things that run the city.