by Patrick McShea
Pittsburghers are accustomed to seeing their hometown visually portrayed with its river-hemmed Downtown as a focal point. If your goal is to understand how the city’s geographical position in the greater landscape of southwestern Pennsylvania influences its wildlife and plant cover, images from different perspectives are useful.
The picture above offers a bird’s eye view down the Allegheny River at a point nine miles upstream from the 325-mile-long waterway’s confluence with the Monongahela River. That much-photographed merge point, which creates the Ohio River, can be spatially located in the frame’s right-of-center background by the hazy blur of Downtown’s tallest buildings. The eye movement required to locate the spot involves tracing steep left-bank wooded bluffs from suburban Penn Hills and along the Pittsburgh neighborhoods of Lincoln-Lemington, Highland Park, and Morningside.
This simple exercise has relevance to the upcoming City Nature Challenge (CNC) for the visual attention it brings to the paired Pittsburgh physical features that keep nature in continual view here – our river system and the steep wooded hillsides carved by these big winding waterways and their tributaries.
Corridors Support Biodiversity
Both features create habitat corridors that serve to enrich the city’s biodiversity. The pair of Bald Eagles with a long record of nesting success on a wooded Monongahela River hillside in Pittsburgh’s Hays neighborhood are the most prominent evidence of this phenomena. Some of the fish they feed their young at this time of year can be regarded as additional evidence.
Many of the organisms supported by Pittsburgh’s wooded and flowing water corridors do not, however, lend themselves to the photo-documentation of the CNC. Some notable tree specimens and spring wildflower stands are found on high inaccessible ledges, river visits by diverse forms of waterfowl occur more frequently in the winter rather than the spring, and the predictability of the dozens fish species found in Pittsburgh’s waters challenges even the anglers who pursue them.
Importance of Incomplete Survey
The solution to this dilemma, as you record CNC observations and interpret the collective results, is simply to regard this important citizen science initiative as necessarily incomplete. In a recent BioScience paper co-authored by Nicole Heller, Curator of Anthropocene Studies at CMNH, analysis of urban biodiversity studies from all over the world pointed to the importance of enhancing public engagement and environmental stewardship. That is something that can certainly happen this year between April 30 and May 3, in a City Nature Challenge that recognizes some unavoidable bio-survey gaps.
Patrick McShea works in the Education and Visitor Experience department of Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Museum employees are encouraged to blog about their unique experiences and knowledge gained from working at the museum.
Citations for research paper:
“The Biological Deserts Fallacy: Cities in Their Landscapes Contribute More than We Think to Regional Biodiversity,” BioScience, Volume 71, Issue 2, February 2021, Pages 148–160,
Erica N Spotswood, Erin E Beller, Robin Grossinger, J Letitia Grenier, Nicole E Heller, Myla F J Aronson, The Biological Deserts Fallacy: Cities in Their Landscapes Contribute More than We Think to Regional Biodiversity, BioScience, Volume 71, Issue 2, February 2021, Pages 148–160, https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/biaa155
Carnegie Museum of Natural History Blog Citation InformationBlog author: McShea, Patrick
Publication date: April 27, 2021