Biodiversity plays an important role in maintaining healthy ecosystems and the continuation of all forms of life on the planet. The richer the diversity of life, the greater opportunities for medical discoveries, adaptive responses to challenges such as climate change and bountiful habitats.
Lafayette faculty and students are working on a variety of research projects related to local biodiversity and ecology, including the effects of the pesticide atrazine on monarch butterflies. For this study, research participants used LaFarm to grow milkweeds, the only plant on which monarchs will lay their eggs and the primary food source for monarch caterpillars.
The College has longstanding relationships with the Bushkill Stream Conservancy and Jacobsburg Environmental Education Center and has participated in projects to enhance the stream corridor, provide vernal pools, and construct naturalized detention ponds and wetlands. Additional work is needed to remove invasive species, such as Japanese Knotweed, along the Bushkill Creek corridor adjacent to campus.
The College has a diverse tree collection and the wooded slopes off campus along the Bushkill Creek corridor provide excellent forest habitat. Native plant species support local insect and bird populations, and recent landscaping efforts on campus, such as on the renovated Quad, have emphasized the use of native shrubs and perennials as described in the Campus Master Plan. The focus on foster biodiversity on campus is embedded in the College’s Sustainable Landscaping Policy. At LaFarm, nesting bluebirds and tree swallows use boxes installed along the perimeter fence. A 50-foot buffer of native grasses and wildflowers is being established between the garden and neighboring agricultural field.
Faculty and students in Biology and Civil & Environmental Engineering departments, in conjunction with scientists across the country, are studying the problem of window-killed birds on our campus, and installed Birdsavers in Acopian, Skillman, Hugel and the Willams Art Center to minimize the problem.
In fall 2017, the area in front of the Fisher Halls was transformed into the campus’ first-ever stormwater bioretention area to slow and filter stormwater so that fewer pollutants reach Bushkill Creek. The bioretention area vegetation was scientifically and strategically selected for its ability to withstand saturated conditions but also to be able to thrive when the water dries up. The garden is comprised of native perennial plants that encourage biodiversity and attract pollinators, which is critical to supporting a declining population of bees and other pollinators.
“We are looking to create more ecological enhancements on campus that help broaden our view of sustainability,” says Brandes. “This is just a pilot; we hope to add more projects like this on campus.”
The bioretention area, funded by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Lehigh Gap Nature Center, is one of the projects Lafayette’s EcoReps are maintaining as part of their role as environmental educators on campus.
For more information on native plants in the Lehigh Valley, visit the Lehigh Gap Nature Center’s plant directory.