Creating a New Model for Citizen Science Education Experiences

Supported by a grant from the A.J. and M.D. Ruggiero Memorial Trust, faculty and students from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Graduate School of Education are collaborating with Mount Auburn Cemetery staff to engage visitors in citizen science education experiences focused on wildlife habitat and the environment.

Hand holding cicada exoskeletons
Cicada exoskeletons (exuviae)

The Mount Auburn Urban Ecosystem project aims to create a model of urban nature preservation and engaged citizen science research and education that includes:

  • Assessing the biological diversity and an assessment of the restoration of wildlife habitats through research on insects (pollinators and ants), bats, birds, and physical features of water and air
  • Monitoring the effects of human-environmental interactions through surveys on visitor usage, attitudes, and perceptions
  • Integrating the research findings with the Mount Auburn educational materials (pamphlets, mobile-phone applications, public tours, a future smart phone app, etc.)
  • Engaging the public through self-guided and naturalist led tours as well as citizen science initiatives
  • Contributing to the growing field that examines nature impacts on people
Children exploring at Mt. Auburn cemetary.

Mount Auburn Cemetery

Mount Auburn is a 175-acre designed landscape in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that serves as both a peaceful oasis for over 250,000 visitors each year and an urban wildlife refuge for a variety of species in the midst of the densely-populated Boston area. It's a National Historic Landmark, accredited Level III arboretum, and Massachusetts Audubon Society Important Bird Area, acclaimed for inspiring the creation of the nation’s public parks.

"Lesley’s approach to urban ecology is in step with the latest ways to educate people about their local environment."
Dave Morimoto, Director, Natural Sciences and Mathematics

Studying Urban Ecosystems

Modern ecology, and especially urban ecology, recognizes that both environmental and social factors influence urban ecosystems. Therefore, both factors must be considered in order to understand how to steward urban habitats and guide human interactions with the environment. Mount Auburn is the ideal place for a study of these factors and how they interact, given that its founders envisioned it as a garden burial ground where people could contemplate the cycle of life integrated with a quiet naturalistic wooded place.

"Lesley’s approach to urban ecology is in step with the latest ways to educate people about their local environment,” says Dave Morimoto, director of Lesley’s Natural Sciences and Mathematics division, who is writing a book on human interactions with the natural environment.

"In the past, researchers were focused on cities and pristine environments exclusive of each other," he says, "but now, more researchers are looking at both together. The world population of humans is over 50 percent urban, and over 81 percent urban in the United States. With so much of the world’s population currently living in urban areas, places such as Mount Auburn offer us the opportunity to learn more about how to sustain a healthy ecosystem for both people and wildlife.”

Read more about the collaboration in the Friends of Mount Auburn magazine Sweet Auburn Volume 2 (.PDF).

Want to sample the Lesley urban ecology learning experience? Try one of our upcoming free naturalist trainings.

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Lesley faculty involved in the Mount Auburn Urban Ecosystem Project