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Nature Literacy Quiz Level 2

1. What is the main difference between traditional and natural landscaping?

Answer:  Seasonal color, diversity of plant and wildlife, lower maintenance, more birds and butterflies, promotes natural system services.

Traditional landscaping attempts to create a landscape that looks the same, regardless of location. This is, in part, pushed by nurseries that sell the same plant across wide markets, maximizing revenue through efficiencies of scale. Nurseries aggressively market a limited number of plants through garden magazines, local newspapers, and radio and television programs, etc. This is also driven by landscape designers who tend to use the same plants regardless of where the site is (less burdensome than learning new plants). Lastly, it is driven by homeowners and property managers who grew up learning one set of plants and understandably use those plants as a frame of reference as they move about the country. These and other forces have created an atmosphere that emphasizes using the same plants regardless of location and changing a site to accommodate these plants. Site changing often entails installing irrigation, bringing in new soil or soil amendments, regularly applying chemical products (pesticides, fertilizer, etc.), and frequently cutting, pruning and weeding. This is traditional landscaping. Resulting monocultures may cause extinction of many species.

Native gardens change color with the seasons, multiple layers of foliage, use less lawn, are low in maintenance, require less flower purchases, and use less water and less chemicals.

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2. How many gallons of water does an average person use each day?

Answer:  100-150 gallons.

Each person is estimated to use between 100 and 150 gallons of water each day.  Most water planning estimates use 150 gallons.  This amounts to about 36,500 to 54, 750 gallons of water each year.  The average household uses 130,000 gallons per year.  The cost of treated water ranges from $.06 to $.01 per gallon.  Groundwater is free (except for the cost of a well, electricity and possibly water conditioning).  This amounts to an annual cost in your household water bill of between $780 and $1,500 per year. 

Water conservation in the home can reduce water use by 35%.
Using native, drought-resistant plants can reduce your bill by 15%.
Stop washing your driveway and you can reduce your bill another 5%.

The price of residential water service in 30 major U.S. cities rose faster than the cost of nearly every other household staple last year, according to Circle of Blue’s Annual Water Pricing Survey.

The average monthly cost of water for a family of four using 100 gallons per person per day, climbed 6 percent, according to data collected from the utilities. It is the smallest year-to-year change in the six-year history of the Circle of Blue survey but comparable to past years. The median increase this year was 4.5 percent. In comparison, the Consumer Price Index rose just 1.8 percent in the 12 months ending in March, not including the volatile food and energy sectors. Including food and energy, prices fell by 0.1 percent.  For families using 150 gallons and 50 gallons per person per day, average water prices rose 6 percent and 5.2 percent, respectively.

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3. How many trees are needed to infiltrate enough water to support one household (2.5 people)?

Answer: On average, 7.5 trees will infiltrate enough water to replace the water used in the house each year.   

A mature tree can infiltrate approximately 27,800 gallons per year. If 56 percent is evapo-transpired, only 44 percent is recharged to streams and groundwater. Therefore the average tree infiltrates about 12,232 gallons that contribute to water supply per year.

A single person uses approximately 100 gallons a day or 36,500 gallons per year.

If the average household is 2.5 people it would take 7.5 trees to infiltrate enough water to replace the water used to run the house.

4. How much more fertilizer is recommended for use than is needed for a green lawn?

Answer: 4-5 times.

Grass, like all other plants, requires nutrients for growth. Unlike native plants, lawn has very little habitat value and can be a major source of stormwater runoff. The first rule of good stewardship is to reduce the size of your lawn by at least 25%. 

Unfortunately, most soils in Pennsylvania are not naturally rich in nutrients. Therefore, apply fertilizers to supply those elements not present in the native soil.  Many fertilization programs recommend application 4 times a year at full strength. Many add herbicides and pesticides as well.  The three macronutrients are: nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). Of these, nitrogen is required in the largest quantities, potassium second and phosphorus third.

Lawn fertilization works best in the spring and fall. Avoid excessive fertilization in the typical 4-step programs and cut your impact in half. An example of cool-season grass fertilization would be 10-15 pounds of 16-4-8 per 1000 square feet in early September and April.  Leave clippings in your lawn and cut the application amount in half.

The best fertilizers are organic or slow release synthetic fertilizers.

Fertilizer Application

Listed below are some key points to remember when applying fertilizer.

  • Don’t apply fertilizer when rain is expected. Nitrogen is soluble in water and a large portion of nitrogen will be lost in runoff and stormwater. This pollutes local streams.
  • Don’t apply fertilizer when the grass leaves are wet. This can increase the potential of leaf burn.
  • Use a mechanical spreader to distribute the fertilizer. Don’t apply it by hand.  Use the two-direction application procedure as described for seeding.
  • If possible, water all fertilizer applications thoroughly .

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5. What is the best stormwater and flood management tool for your yard?

Answer:  Wooded areas.

The natural forest cover that defined the watershed for the past 10,000 years provided a living filter and sponge to regulate the quantity and quality of water in aquifers, streams and wetlands.  The relatively pure air and precipitation, the level and dispersion of animal and human waste, the rich leaf litter and humus of the forest soils and the biological diversity of plants and organisms in the pre-settlement ecosystem functioned as the best water purifier known to date. 

Plants, in fact, are small water treatment and purification machines. 

First, a dense colony of plants in the path of stormwater can slow surface runoff, allowing soil, sediment and other impurities to simply drop out or be caught in the plant stems and roots before entering the stream. Second, plants encourage the infiltration of water into the soil by slowing stormwater’s progress to the stream, plus the roots of the plants loosen the soil and create a multitude of small fissures through which the water can infiltrate. Third, the plants themselves take up nitrogen and phosphorus, which are good for the plants, but can be bad for the stream in excess. Fourth, the plants host an entire ecosystem of micro and macro invertebrates, bacteria, fungi and other organisms that operate in the soil and water to convert pollutants to harmless and even useful simpler compounds.

Woodlands produce the least runoff of any land cover category. With forested watershed there is clean water and no flooding.

Rain is intercepted by leaves and drains down the branches and stem. Leaves evapotranspire water back into the atmosphere. Roots take up soil moisture and increase runoff storage. Mulch slows runoff and holds moisture. 

A survey of water suppliers conducted by the Trust for Public Land and the American Water Works Association showed that treatment costs for drinking water goes up when forested area in a watershed goes down. 

For every 10 percent increase in forest cover in a watershed, the cost of water treatment goes down 20%.Treatment costs level off at 60% forest cover.1

One acre of woodland supplies clean, filtered water to approximately 5.4 homes each year. It also supplies clean water to streams at the temperature aquatic organisms need to thrive. It significantly reduces flooding, stormwater, erosion, streambank erosion and increases habitat and pollination.

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6. What does a riparian buffer do for the environment?

Riparian buffers provide several important natural system services. These services can be classified into two broad categories.

The first category relates to the ability of riparian buffers to limit or reduce the environmental impact from disturbance.  This includes trapping sediments and nutrients and recharging groundwater. 

The term "buffer" can be defined as “something that serves to separate two items” or “to lessen the shock.” Thus, riparian buffers separate aquatic ecosystems from managed lands and maintain water quality by acting as filters to lessen the amount of pollutants entering streams from the managed areas. Stoud Laboratory demonstrated that vegetated riparian buffers filter 200-800 times the nitrogen as non-vegetated buffers. It takes 100 feet of vegetated buffer to filter out all sediment.2

The second category relates to a much wider array of riparian functions.  The dominant vegetation in natural riparian areas is usually trees.  Thus, forested buffers also provide wildlife habitat, stream temperature moderation, stream bank stabilization, and food and habitat for aquatic organisms.

A riparian buffer helps to supply organic materials (leaves and woody debris), which provide food for aquatic invertebrates (and these, in turn, provide food for wildlife). A buffer serves as the basis for a more diverse structural habitat for all aquatic life. As a stream system’s quality declines, fish like catfish and carp, more tolerant of poor conditions, begin increasing, and those less tolerant.

7. Are pesticides still a threat to our health and the health of wildlife?

Answer:  Yes.  And the threat is increasing.

When Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring in 1962, she raised public awareness about the effects of pesticide use on our health and our environment.  However, almost forty years after Carson drew attention to the health and environmental impacts of DDT, use of equally hazardous pesticides has only increased.  And, there continues to be more evidence all the time that human exposure to pesticides is linked to health problems.  For example, in May 2010, scientists from the University of Montreal and Harvard University released a study that found that exposure to pesticide residues on vegetables and fruits may double a child’s risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a condition that can cause inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity in children.

Pesticides are used in our schools, parks, and public lands.  Pesticides are sprayed on agricultural fields and wood lots. Pesticides can be found in our air, our food, our soil, our water and even in our breast milk.

Pesticides and Human Health

Pesticides have been linked to a wide range of human health hazards, ranging from short-term impacts such as headaches and nausea to chronic impacts like cancer, reproductive harm, and endocrine disruption. Acute dangers - such as nerve, skin, and eye irritation and damage, headaches, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, and systemic poisoning - can sometimes be dramatic, and even occasionally, fatal.

Chronic health effects may occur years after even minimal exposure to pesticides in the environment, or result from the pesticide residues which we ingest through our food and water. A July 2007 study conducted by researchers at the Public Health Institute, the California Department of Health Services, and the UC Berkeley School of Public Health found a six-fold increase in risk factors for autism spectrum disorders (ASD) for children of women who were exposed to organochlorine pesticides.

Pesticides and Children

Children are particularly susceptible to the hazards associated with pesticide use. There is now considerable scientific evidence that the human brain is not fully formed until the age of 12, and childhood exposure to some of the most common pesticides on the market may greatly impact the development of the central nervous system. Children have more skin surface for their size than adults, absorb proportionally greater amounts of many substances through their lungs and intestinal tracts, and take in more air, food and water per pound than adults. Children have not developed their immune systems, nervous systems, or detoxifying mechanisms completely, leaving them less capable of fighting the introduction of toxic pesticides into their systems.

Many of the activities that children engage in - playing in the grass, putting objects into their mouth and even playing on carpet - increase their exposure to toxic pesticides. The combination of likely increased exposure to pesticides and lack of bodily development to combat the toxic effects of pesticides means that children are suffering disproportionately from their impacts.

Pesticides and the Environment

Pesticides are toxic to living organisms. Some can accumulate in water systems, pollute the air, and in some cases have other dramatic environmental effects.  Scientists are discovering new threats to the environment that are equally disturbing.

Pesticide use can damage agricultural land by harming beneficial insect species, soil microorganisms, and worms which naturally limit pest populations and maintain soil health and weakening plant root systems and immune systems.3

8. How quickly can you reduce stress when walking in nature?

Answer: 5-10 minutes

Stress has many negative physiological and mental impacts:

  • Stress can lead to depression, schizophrenia, anxiety, exhaustion, and fatigue syndromes4.
  • Stress can occur at any time in life ; however, such responses are especially prominent at later age due to physical, psychological, and social changes—for example, in response to chronic disease, disability, death of loved ones, or financial hardship5.
  • Stress can also negatively affect people’s perceptions of their well-being, including a poor perception of their own mental health.

Humans find nature engrossing and soothing. Even brief glimpses of natural elements improve brain performance by providing a cognitive break from the complex demands of urban life.

Regardless of age or culture, humans find nature restorative. Social support enhances immune functions, and promotes better moods. Gardens can encourage this interaction if they are easily accessible. In one study, researchers Marcus and Barnes found that more than two-thirds of people choose a natural setting as a retreat when stressed. In another study, 95% of those interviewed said their mood improved after spending time outside, changing from depressed, stressed, and anxious to more calm and balanced6.

Physical activity has been linked to improvements in mental health and stress7. Many studies connect urban park use to decreased stress levels and improved moods. In one study, the longer participants stayed in a park, the less stress they exhibited8. More than 100 studies have shown that relaxation and stress reduction are significant benefits associated with spending time in green areas9.

Gardens offer a desired destination that prompts people to walk there and motivates people to explore once there10. Being in contact with nature motivates people to exercise and appears to boost the benefits of exercise. Engaging in gardening is a great physical activity. A gardener can burn over 160 calories in four hours. Exposure to nature not only makes you feel better emotionally, but physically as well, by increasing the production of stress hormones within 3-4 minutes of a person's contact with nature11.

9. How much money can a person save in health care costs each year by having consistent contact with nature and good exercise?

Answer $1,800 or more

Greenery encourages exercise and is a more restorative environment than indoor settings, with a greater positive effect on mental health12.

Researchers in England found that joggers who exercise in a natural green setting with trees, foliage and landscape views feel more restored and less anxious, angry and depressed than people who burn the same amount of calories in gyms or other built settings. Research continues into what is being called “green exercise."13 Green spaces provide necessary places and opportunities for physical activity. Exercise improves cognitive function, learning, and memory. This is important because, apart from the physical benefits, even mild exercise elevates mood14.

Play and exercise are an important part of child and adult development and brain function. Children's play can help develop cognitive thinking and reasoning abilities15. Later in life, exercise likewise helps increase and maintain the brain’s cognitive capacity16. Researchers have found that exercise boosts the growth of new nerve cells and improves learning and memory in adult mice17.

A recent study of over 20,000 people found that the average medical claims for middle-aged, least-fit men were about 36 percent higher ($5,134) than the average spent a year for most-fit men ($3,227). The most-fit males saved $1,857 in medical costs per year. The average medical claims for least-fit women were 40 per cent higher ($4,565) than the most-fit ($2,755). The most-fit females saved $1,810 in medical costs per year18.

10. What is the most important land use approach to maximizing natural system function and financial benefits to the local economy?

Answer: The main goal of implementing habitat corridors is to increase biodiversity. When areas of land are broken up by human interference, population numbers become unstable and many animal and plant species become endangered. By re-connecting the fragments, the population fluctuations can decrease dramatically.

A wildlife corridor, habitat corridor, or green corridor is an area of habitat connecting wildlife populations separated by human activities or structures (such as roads, development, or logging).  This allows an exchange of individuals between populations, which may help prevent the negative effects of inbreeding and reduced genetic diversity (via genetic drift) that often occur within isolated populations.  Corridors may also help facilitate the re-establishment of populations that have been reduced or eliminated due to random events (such as fires or disease).

This may potentially moderate some of the worst effects of habitat fragmentation, wherein urbanization can split up habitat areas, causing animals to lose both their natural habitat and the ability to move between regions to use all of the resources they need to survive.  Habitat fragmentation due to human development is an ever-increasing threat to biodiversity, and habitat corridors are a possible mitigation.

Corridors can contribute to three factors that stabilize a population:

  • Colonization—animals are able to move and occupy new areas when food sources or other natural resources are lacking in their core habitat.
  • Migration—species that relocate seasonally can do so more safely and effectively when it does not interfere with human development barriers.
  • Interbreeding—animals can find new mates in neighboring regions so that genetic diversity can increase and thus have a positive impact on the overall population.

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1. Postel, Sandra L. and Barton H. Thompson. 2005. Watershed protection: capturing the benefits of nature’s water supply services. Natural Resources Forum. Issue 29, Pp 98-108.

2.Stroud Water Research Center. (2004). Forested Buffers: The Key to Clean Streams. Abstract published by Chesapeake Bay Foundation, 1. Retrieved from

4. Grahn, P., and U.K. Stigsdotter. 2010. The Relation Between Perceived Sensory Dimensions of Urban Green Space and Stress Restoration. Landscape and Urban Planning 94, 3-4: 264-275.

5. Orsega-Smith, E., A.J. Mowen, L.L. Payne, and G. Godbey. 2004. The Interaction of Stress and Park Use on Psycho-Physiological Health in Older Adults. Journal of Leisure Research 36, 2: 232-257.

6. Marcus, Clare Copper and Marni Barnes. 1999. Healing gardens: Therapeutic Benefits and Design Recommendations 9Trans), New York, John Wiley and Sons.

7. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 1999. Physical Activity and Health: A Report of the Surgeon General. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Atlanta GA, 278 pp.

8. Hull, R.B., and S.E. Michael. 1995. Nature-Based Recreation, Mood Change, and Stress Restoration. Leisure Sciences 17, 1: 1-14.

9. Davis, J. 2004. Psychological Benefits of Nature Experiences: An Outline of Research and Theory. Naropa University.

10. IBID.

11. Bowler, D.E., Buyung-Ali, L.M., Knight, T.M., & Pullin, A.S. (2010). A systematic review of evidence for the added benefits to health of exposure to natural environments. BMC Public Health, 10, 456.

12. van Praag, H., B.R. Christie, T.J. Sejnowski, and F.H. Gage. 1999. Running Enhances Neurogenesis, Learning, and Long-Term Potentiation in Mice. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the U.S.A. 96, 23: 13427-431.

13. Frumkin, Howard, and Louv, Richard. The Powerful link between land and preserving human health. Land Trust Alliance Special Anniversary Report. 2007.

14. Pretty, J., R. Hine, and J. Peacock. 2006. Green Exercise: The Benefits of Activities in Green Places. Biologist 53, 3: 143-48.

15. Kirkby, M. 1989. Nature as refuge in children’s environments. Children’s Environments Quarterly 6:7-12.

16. van Praag, H., B.R. Christie, T.J. Sejnowski, and F.H. Gage. 1999. Running Enhances Neurogenesis, Learning, and Long-Term Potentiation in Mice. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the U.S.A. 96, 23: 13427-431.

17. Colcombe, S., and A.F. Kramer. 2003. Fitness Effects on the Cognitive Function of Older Adults: A Meta-Analytic Study. Psychological Science 14, 2: 125-130.

18. Holohan, E. (2012). Fitness in middle age lowers medical costs later: study. HealthDay News.