At Mt. Cuba Center, we recognize the importance of studying the ecology of our constructed and natural landscapes and of motivating conservation action. Our staff partners with scientists, students, and outside organizations to research native plants, insects, wildlife, their collective interactions, and the field of environmental psychology. The goal of our research is to better understand the ecological value of native plants in the landscape and communicate this value to the community.

We support graduate research through the Mt. Cuba Center Fellowship Program.

Entomology Fellowships
The current projects involve two separate studies led by the University of Delaware’s Doug Tallamy and Deborah Delaney. These multi-year studies take place on-site at Mt. Cuba Center and at the university. Both are aimed at determining the ecological value of cultivars relative to the native species. However, one project tackles this from the perspective of leaf-eating insects while the other looks at pollinators. These projects seek to address two key questions.

  • Do cultivars of native plants support food webs as well as their parent species?

Dr. Douglas Tallamy and Mt. Cuba Center Fellow, Emily Baisden
Homeowners, land managers, landscapers, landscape architects, and landscape designers around the country are beginning to use more native plant species in their gardens than they have in the past with the hopes of boosting local biodiversity. A challenge they encounter immediately is that most native plant species in the trade are available only as cultivars. If an important goal of native plant landscaping is to improve the ecological integrity of the landscape, it is necessary to learn whether cultivars of native species support food webs as well as their parent species. This study looks at the straight species of woody plants and compares them to cultivars that have been selected for interesting foliage, increased fruiting, disease resistance, and plant habit. Researchers are comparing the diversity and abundance of caterpillars in the food webs of straight species to their cultivars. Data from this study will be used to predict if there are any ecological consequences when using native plant cultivars.

  • What is the ecological role of flowering plants as nutritional forage for pollinators?

Dr. Deborah Delaney and Mt. Cuba Center Fellow, Owen Cass
This project is developing a digital pollen library of the Mid-Atlantic flowering plants and different cultivars of indigenous species. The nutritional quality of pollen and nectar collected from flowering plants will be analyzed for total amino acid content, crude protein, fatty acids and sterols, total carbohydrates and vitamins, minerals, and sugar content. We are looking to determine if there are differences in the nutritional value of pollen and nectar from different cultivars of plants, and to see if there are differences in the morphology of pollen among cultivars. From the data collected, we hope to provide nursery managers, homeowners, growers, and landscape architects with recommendations on planting combinations that will add beauty to their property while providing an ecological service of nutrition for pollinators.


Environmental Psychology Fellowship
Dr. Janet Swim at Penn State University with Mt. Cuba Center Fellow, Ash Gillis

The purpose of this project is to assess baseline information on the values, perceptions, and skill levels of the immediate Mt. Cuba Center community in regards to gardening and the home landscape, especially concerning the use of native plants. Additionally, Gillis will assess community characteristics and social marketing trends and explore the best methods to communicate with residents. This research will assist in the development of Mt. Cuba Center outreach programs that motivate behavior change.

Learn More
Mt. Cuba Center pursues graduate and post-doctoral research on inspiring an appreciation for the beauty and value of native plants, motivating conservation action, and measurably improving the health of habitats and ecosystems.  For more information about the Mt. Cuba Center Fellowship, please email us at education@mtcubacenter.org.