Studying School Gardens as Habitat for Urban Butterflies and Outcomes of Involving Elementary School Students in Data Collection during a DC Summer Program


Schoolyard gardens are increasing in cities to simultaneously provide students with experiential learning opportunities and local communities with increased food security. These gardens may also provide urban habitats for pollinators and opportunities for students to interact with urban wildlife. Here we assess how schoolyard gardens may provide habitat for large-bodied butterflies and discuss how they may be designed to support more butterfly diversity. Due to their charismatic nature and presence in urban spaces, butterflies can be a flagship species to reconnect urban residents with the natural environment. Therefore, we designed the project to be student-led and assessed students' participation in the data collection process. Three elementary schools with rising first and third-grade students observe and capture large-bodied butterflies in their gardens during the summer of 2022. The species richness and abundance at school gardens were compared to butterflies caught by researchers in a corresponding natural area near each school. An N-mixture model was used to estimate the correlation between tree canopy, site area, and impervious surface to eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) abundance. Results showed that swallowtail abundance was negatively related to the percent of impervious surface at a site regardless of the site's area and proportion of tree cover. Our results indicate that urban schools with limited green space can increase butterfly abundance by planting more vegetation around the garden and decreasing impervious cover. Student discussions provided program feedback and increased interest in butterfly ecology within urban environments. These results indicate that involving K- 12 students in urban ecological research within their school grounds may increase their awareness of interactions with nature.