UD-created computer game teaches Delaware State Fair goers about ‘green’ plants

August 2, 2012 under CANR News

Native plants rule when it comes to stormwater management – that’s the lesson children and other visitors to the Delaware State Fair learned when they stopped to play computer games at the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) exhibit in Harrington last week.

The games, developed by computer science and art students at the University of Delaware, aimed to help the public understand that some garden and lawn plants are better for the environment than others. Players chose different plants and then watched to learn how the plantings affected water, wildlife and people in the game.

In one example, players who chose plantings considered invasive saw the plants spread across the board and prevent them from planting other beneficial plants. This visual illustration quickly demonstrated what it might take people seasons to witness in their own backyard.

In particular, the games educated the public that selecting the right native species can help manage stormwater runoff – water created during rain or snow that does not soak into the ground but flows into surface waterways and storm sewers.

“People visit the exhibits because they are interested in learning. This is an ideal time to explain the tightly connected parts of the Delaware ecosystem,” explained Terry Harvey, UD assistant professor of computer and information sciences, who along with Troy Richards, associate professor of art, helped and advised the students in developing the games.

In the past, stormwater has been managed with engineering solutions such as large storm water systems built to quickly collect water and move it to another location. According to Susan Barton, a UD associate professor and Cooperative Extension specialist in plant and soil sciences who was involved in the project, properly managed stormwater is best left where it falls.

“As water collects, it becomes more forceful and dangerous,” she remarked. “Pollutants such as pesticides and herbicides picked up along the way become concentrated, posing a potential hazard for rivers and causing erosion problems. Native plants, well-adapted to Delaware’s conditions, can help by intercepting rainwater that filters into the landscape, slowing it down and allowing it to be transpired back into the atmosphere.”

As more and more of the Delaware landscape is paved, there is less surface for proper water infiltration, causing even the smallest rain to puddle on roads and sidewalks. Rain gardens, for example, can help minimize runoff while providing important support for insects and birds. Using plants in unexpected places like rooftops and parking lots may also offer similar benefits, Barton said.

Students of Harvey and Richards initially developed 11 different games as part of a software engineering and art course last spring. Marianne Walch, environmental scientist, and Randy Cole, manager from DelDOT’s stormwater management program, evaluated the games for playability, educational potential and fun, selecting two of the games to debut at the state fair.

“Playing the games has been very effective in helping us deliver the message to both kids and their parents that small changes in the way they plant and maintain their own yard can have a large impact on the health of our waterways and ecosystems,” said Walch. “Professors Harvey and Richards and their students brought a lot of enthusiasm, talent and creativity to this project.”

UD faculty and students involved in the project include:

Article by Karen B. Roberts

Photos by Danielle Quigley and Troy Richards

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.


Chad Nelson discusses invasive species on the James F. Hall Trail

March 8, 2012 under CANR News

Photo taken on 2/23/2012

When the City of Newark decided to remove the bamboo from the James F. Hall Trail, it got rid of an invasive species that had taken over parts of the trail. And while the bamboo was arguably the most visible invasive species found on the trail, it was far from the only one.

Chad Nelson, assistant professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, has taught a class on invasive plants in the past, including a project focusing on those found along the trail, and he noted there are at least several dozen invasive species in and around the trail.

Noting that bamboo sometimes gets a bad rap because of its visibility, Nelson said that there are some other less obvious invasive plants that are prevalent on the James F. Hall Trail. Some of these include garlic mustard, tree of heaven, burning bush and Japanese honeysuckle, which will emit a nice fragrance in the summer but suffocates the plants through which it grows.

Some established woodland patches along the trail, like the one between Chapel Street and Library Avenue, would thrive with better management of invasive species, Nelson said. “There is pretty substantial woodland and it has lots of invasive species in it, things like burning bush and some of the bush honeysuckles, but it also has a really strong stand of native canopy species,” Nelson said. “That’s a place where you’ve got something good going on and if you could get the invasive species out, I think there would be a better chance of getting it back into a balanced succession.”

As to how these invasive species reached the trail in the first place, Nelson said that it was a combination of factors, but pointed out that being next to the train tracks likely didn’t help. “For invasive species, depending on how they propagate or invade, highways, roads, and train tracks are the perfect corridors for plants that have windborne seeds.”

Nelson also said that there are a large number of invasive species on the trail because the trail was built on an underutilized stretch of land where invasive species had years to develop.

It can sometimes be difficult, Nelson said, to identify invasive plants because “by a strict textbook definition, you need to be looking at plants that are not part of the regional flora that can persist and spread in conditions that they normally wouldn’t be in,” said Nelson. “It gets confusing because there are some native plant species that are aggressive, and so many people will call them invasive when by strict definition they are not.”

When it comes to bamboo, specifically, Nelson has had some personal experience dealing with the exotic species in his own yard.

Nelson said a neighbor had planted bamboo in their backyard and when it spread onto his property, he was a little leery and wanted to chop it down.

The more he thought about it, however, Nelson said he saw the benefits of the plant. “It makes a pretty good construction material,” he said, adding “it does run rampant if you just leave it alone but if you have a little bit of energy you can actually harness it.”

For those with bamboo in their backyards, Nelson recommended patience and persistence. “You have to keep after it for a couple of years but it comes up over a fairly short window in early summer and at that point, it’s like asparagus — very soft.” Nelson said cutting the asparagus-like bamboo during its two-week growing period will eventually sap the plant of its energy.

Nelson said that this is preferable to more intense solutions he has seen. “A lot of people get extreme — they get out bulldozers, and I think that’s just bringing too big of an arsenal to something that can be controlled if you just have a little patience over a longer time frame.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Danielle Quigley


Battling Stink Bugs

September 24, 2010 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

The University of Delaware has seen a recent increase in the number of phone calls regarding stink bugs infesting homes. Although stink bugs do find their way inside homes in the fall, looking for a warm place to spend the winter, they do not cause house hold damage, and are harmless to humans and animals.

Your best bet to keep the stink bugs out of your house? Caulk and seal windows, cracks, crevices, screens, and vents. Pesticides are rarely warranted; when applied, they seldom last more than a week to 10 days. The length of protection will vary because of the amount of rainfall received post-application.

Because stink bugs are primarily a threat to fruits and vegetables, stink bug research at UD is limited to that of an agricultural nature. In recent years, native stinkbugs have caused increased agricultural damage in Delaware.

The brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB) (Halyomorpha halys), a nonnative stinkbug, has recently been spotted in Delaware. It is a relatively new pest in North America. Sometimes called the yellow-brown stink bug or the East Asian stink bug, it was first collected in the United States in Allentown, Pennsylvania during the fall of 1996.

UD entomologists in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources say that this insect was first reported to occur in northern New Castle County Delaware in 2001. In 2010, it was found at very low levels for the first time in soybean and lima bean fields in all three counties in Delaware.

Currently, the University of Delaware is a member of a BMSB Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Working Group funded by the USDA’s Northeast IPM Center. Members of this group include researchers, extension personnel, growers, pest control operators and a hotel manager.

At the first meeting in June, members shared research results, field observations and established research and extension priorities. This group hopes to secure funding for improving management of the important agricultural and urban pest.

Additional UD research will be scheduled for 2011 if BMSB populations increase in agricultural crops.

For more information about BMSB, please refer to information from universities found at the following websites:

Penn State University

Rutgers University

University of Maryland

Ohio State University (PDF)

You can also view this article on UDaily by clicking here.


Phragmites partners with microbes to plot native plants’ demise

January 4, 2010 under CANR News

UD researchers led by Harsh Bais, assistant professor of plant and soil sciences, have uncovered a novel means of conquest employed by the common reed, Phragmites australis, which ranks as one of the world’s most invasive plants.  Visit UDaily for the full story.


Judy Hough-Goldstein honored by Delaware Invasive Species Council

December 9, 2009 under CANR News
Judy Hough-Goldstein, professor of entomology and wildlife ecology

Judy Hough-Goldstein, professor of entomology and wildlife ecology, honored by Delaware Invasive Species Council

At the annual meeting of the Delaware Invasive Species Council on Nov. 23, Judy Hough-Goldstein, professor of entomology and wildlife ecology at the University of Delaware, was presented with the organization’s first ever research award.  Read the full story on UDaily.