About the City Plant Project

Our Project

Thanks for visiting our webpage! Chances are you met one of our researchers (who are collecting data on the health of two plant species in St. Louis City and County parks) or found our sentinel plants (which are allowing us to learn more about infection prevalence). Read on for more information on what we are aiming to learn!

Quinn Fox, PhD Student in the lab of Dr. Rachel Penczykowski 

The goal of our work is to identify patterns of powdery mildew infection on Plantago lanceolata and Plantago rugelii across urban, rural, and suburban landscapes.

Urban, suburban, and rural habitats differ in many ways that affect the growth and survival of organisms. For example, cities have more vehicular and foot traffic, and tend to be hotter than surrounding areas. What do those differences mean for plant populations, and species that interact with pathogens?

Plantago lanceolata and Plantago rugelii (common weedy plants frequently found in human-disturbed habitats) are ideal for investigating effects of urbanization, because they are abundant in human-disturbed habitats, and are model organisms in studies of plant ecology and plant-pathogen interactions worldwide .

A few of the questions we are investigating are:

  1. Is the soil temperature (at root level) and air temperature (at plant height) in urban habitats greater than in rural areas?
  2. Is leaf emergence earlier in spring in urban than rural areas?
  3. Do plants senescence earlier in autumn in rural than urban areas?  
  4. Do plant disease epidemics begin earlier in the season and reach higher peak infection prevalence in urban than rural areas?

Our work has two parts, 1) monthly surveys of Plantago lanceolata and Plantago rugelii (common weedy plants frequently found in human-disturbed habitats) and 2) a “sentinel plant” experiment. The sentinel plant experiment involves placing healthy potted plants in each park for one week at a time, then retrieving them and collecting data on their rates of infection by common foliar pathogens. These two aspects of this project will help us learn about the prevalence of plant disease across an urban-rural gradient.

City Plants Project study sites
Fisheye lens image of the sentinel plants at Lafayette Park

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