Brittany Ballantyne

Equinox Staff


What on earth is bird biodiversity, and what does it mean? Quite literally, bird biodiversity is the various ways in which birds adapt and live in their surrounding environments throughout the world.

On Thursday, Aug. 1 at 7 p.m. Dr. Susannah Lerman, a post-doctoral research associate for USFS Northern Research Station, explained how bird biodiversity can be altered by gardening and landscaping within towns and cities, much like in our own Keene, New Hampshire.

Brett Thelen, who set this event up, is the director of Ashuelot Valley Environmental Observatory, which is housed on campus. This is a program of the Harris Center, which aims to educate  about nature in local schools.

Through this program, environmental studies and training in field work are conducted. This organization makes available public programs about nature and science to Keene State students and faculty.

Prior to the event, Thelen expressed that she was “excited to see what Keene residents can do to support bird biodiversity” and explained this was “a somewhat new field with an exciting potential.”

Thelen also pointed out that “we typically associate wildlife with the countryside.” However it would be “interesting to see wildlife in our own communities.”

Upon her presentation, Lerman spoke of where she volunteered, worked, and studied over the past ten years.

Lerman has worked in cities and other places as far away as Israel. During this span of time, she has come to believe that most people consider just rats, cockroaches, and other ‘pest’ rodents the wildlife of cities.

This is not the case, however. Lerman addressed that our “urban footprint goes beyond the city” and that we “can no longer ignore cities if we want to preserve conservation.”

She spent a total of ten years in Arizona working with a team of scientists who studied the city as an ecosystem.

Lerman made it clear that even cities – yes, cities – have their own ecosystem.

Another point she made was that people are affected by the environment and the environment is affected by people. Lerman wants to start embracing humans into the environment but spoke of how our development has decreased our yards and ruined the world’s natural landscape.

In Phoenix, AZ, the city itself was losing 20 acres per hour years ago.

Although we have slowed down our development rate, we are still overtaking most of the untouched wildlife landscapes.

During her studies in Arizona, Lerman counted birds in different locations. These locations included the wild lands/wilderness, rural and ex-urban areas, suburbs, and cities as well as downtown areas. Lerman came to find that there was higher bird biodiversity but low density in the wilderness and rural areas as opposed to the lower biodiversity and higher density in suburbs and cities.

Lerman reminded her audience that “you never see just one pigeon” making a reference to the Wal-Mart parking lot here in Keene.

Lerman also shared her knowledge of two dominant Phoenix landscapes classified as Mesic and Xeric areas. Mesic landscapes have the tendency to attract doves, starlings, and the average pigeon due to their grassy environment with exotic vegetation or plantings that require a lot of water. Xeric landscapes consist of gravel and native drought tolerant vegetation, attracting desert animals such as roadrunners.

While studying in these areas in Arizona, Lerman surveyed locals asking if they were satisfied with the bird biodiversity in their neighborhoods. Not to her surprise, most people were not.

Lerman expressed that we are “losing what’s unique in our cities, such as food and shops” due to the effects we have caused in our own communities. Lerman shared a study which informed the audience of “nature deficit disorder.”

The study showed that children spend seven hours by a TV on a non-school day. Lerman urged her listeners that there could be an impact on the well being of nature if people “just get outside.”

Lerman discovered that people do in fact “notice the loss of diversity” but do not “value trying to improve these environments.”

As far as trying to better our surroundings, Lerman displayed the positive sides to our landscaping in cities.

Rooftop gardens are gaining in popularity in homes and businesses alike, providing habitats for insects and birds.

Plantings on streets, trees that line roads, and urban parks also have a healthy effect on the planet as well.

Not only do these plantings improve our ecosystems but our economy as well.

A total of $6.8 million has increased from energy savings that these plants provide. Our plantings save us $9.1 million in reduced storm runoffs and storm damages. It is stated that “trees sell houses” and landscaping in our homes makes homeowners $7.1 million in property values.

Of course, there is the air quality factor that is improved by these environments which saves us one million dollars.

In the long run, Lerman proved, our yards save our world and our bank accounts.

Each part of a garden is a stepping stone to a better ecosystem. Our plantings provide food for birds, insects, and other animals by providing seeds, berries, and nectar. Ponds and birdbaths in our yards attract more creatures as well as the shelter which makes smaller animals less vulnerable-whether the shelter be a stone wall or rocks. Lastly, our yards can be considered nesting sites for female animals and their young.

Lerman stressed that improving our backyard and city ecosystems will take time but urges others to become involved in the fight to keep our environments thriving.

Lerman suggested creating window boxes, setting out bird baths or bird feeders, and getting the word out to your neighbors about the importance of retaining a healthy ecosystem.

As far as Keene State students, these strategies are encouraged as well as becoming involved in organizations and clubs and speaking with facility directors.

Lerman excitedly said “team up with others” and “as long as there’s a plan” there will be ways to improve our surroundings on campus and throughout the city of Keene.

Audience member Susan Whittemore answered that she “liked how the studies were more global” and included both the South and New England area. Whittemore felt that she learned a lot from this presentation as well as Nancy Ancharski.

When Ancharski was asked what she might do with this new information, she exclaimed she would “figure out how to put water in my backyard!” and set up a variety of plants.

Through Lerman’s studies and research over the years, she shared a great knowledge and understanding of the environment in which we live.

She also proved through this event that each and every flower does, in fact, make a difference in the world.


Brittany Ballantyne can be contacted at


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