The Suburban Turf Ecosystem

The carefully-manicured suburban lawn is falling under a more rigorous scientific microscope.

Suburbia may be familiar turf, but it’s one of the last frontiers for scientists trying to understand how ecosystems work and how people are changing the natural world. Researchers are starting to probe the role of lawns in global warming, how garden fertilizers and pesticides affect wildlife and how storm water running from roofs, roads and driveways undermines the health of streams.

“The suburban landscape is large, and it’s growing,” said Jennifer Jenkins of the University of Vermont, one of the scientists who reported her findings in December at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. “There’s this enormous land surface that’s falling through the cracks.”

Jenkins is involved in a study of 40 suburban yards near Baltimore. Researchers will clip plots of lawn by hand, weigh the clippings, measure the grass stubble and thatch and even rake up leaves for analysis.

We'll keep you updated on the results of this ongoing study.