Backstory

In the warmer months, mosquitoes can be a major annoyance in Australia, and staff and students would love to find ways to reduce their number. In some parts of the world, mosquitoes pose a major health risk as they carry diseases like malaria, dengue and Zika virus. This makes the mosquito the most dangerous animal on the planet. But there are hundreds of species of mosquito and most are neither a nuisance nor a threat to humans and in fact, are an important part of the wetland ecosystem.

How might we lessen the nuisance factor imposed by urban and invading mosquito populations?

Our Story

The Problem

To establish a respectful way of coexisting with mosquitoes in their habitats without impacting the ecosystem enchainments in which they play a vital role.

The Big Idea

What happens if we increase the quantity of aromatic plants on campus in an attempt to repel mosquitoes while allowing humans and mosquitoes to maintain their intertwined ecosystems? Our preliminary research has uncovered that female mosquitoes are attracted to carbon dioxide, body odor and heat whereby providing sustenance (blood) and to produce eggs. Therefore, our idea is to test how the aromatic plants will help to manage mosquitoes by confounding their senses and inhibiting their host seeking stimuli. But rather than simply designing appropriate gardens in Callaghan’s various settings, we also want to engage students, visitors, and staff through the act of dispersal or seed bombing. The seed-ball-bombs are initially housed in gumball machine dispensers, will be strategically located around campus. Each seed-ball-bomb mix will take into account the adjacent planting context (native bush, cultivated lawns, etc.) and only disperse plants which are appropriate for their sites. Seed germinators (students etc.) will make a small donation in order to dispense a ball for distribution. Funds raised will contribute to ongoing monitoring of the effectiveness of the project as well as seed-ball supplies. Once dispersed, the seed-balls will naturally decompose providing a basis for plants to germinate. The plants are specifically selected for their seasonal aromas and for specific site conditions across diverse campus microclimates. We are proposing a potential long-term solution without reliance on routine application of pesticides or toxins. The plants are a natural, non-invasive and a respectful method of researching ways in which we can coexist with mosquitoes in our shared environments while actively engaging others to participate in the research project more widely.

Proposed Solution

See videos and collages.

Research & Solution

The core foundation of this project is spread across three main topics; research, education and activation. These are further described below:

  • Research: This is an experiment, in that we anticipate we will have findings regarding mosquitoes and human environments generally: but we cannot predict how well the seeds will germinate, whether or not people will voluntarily participate, and ultimately the effect on both the humans’ consciousness of our intertwining ecologies or the effectiveness of repelling mosquitoes.

  • Education: The project aims to provide a platform for demonstrating how mosquitoes play an important role in the campus ecosystem. It further identifies how they exist and offers a proposal for how we might be able to coexist with them. This will be communicated through an app which is advertised via the seed-ball vending machines (and QR codes) and is connected to other iCampus projects. By interpreting and explaining the complex ecosystems at play as well as inviting participants to actively engage in remaking these environments, education and learning is embedded into the project. Additionally, the seed-ball making workshops funded through the vending machine donations, will educate school children and actively invite them to participate in this project.

  • Activation: A key method by which this project is delivered is through engaging campus users directly. Inviting and allowing them to participate in the research project. In addition to this, the resulting planting adds colour, vibrancy and a light scent to our campus landscapes. This will, in turn reinvigorate a shrub layer dominated by turf and lomandra, which may encourage students to sit and study outside.

Audience

The end-users are students, staff and visitors of the University. They will play an important role in actively engaging with the distribution of seeds, and subsequently, a part in shaping their habitats to coexist with mosquitoes as well as learning about complex relationships in the built and natural environment.

A small monetary contribution in exchange for the seed-balls will be collected and go on to fund the production of seed-balls with local primary and secondary schools who can then visit the campus to learn about the built environment and ecologies.

Technology & Research

We will work with IFS and IT (iCampus) to develop an app that will be advertised on the gumball machines and various campus websites. This app will provide a platform for further education and insight into how to disburse the seed-balls and the subsequent management of mosquitoes to create a respectful cohabitating environment. The app will allow for deeper research to be made available as well as data collected as a result of the experiment.

The research literature level is strongly based on landscape architectural design, design activism, and background ecological research on mosquitoes and their habitats.

Testing

Four main research questions form part of the project’s methodology, and are outlined below:

  • Distribution:  Through an innovative approach can participants contribute to making a shared habitat whereby mosquitoes and humans peacefully coexist?

  • Distribute and install seed-ball machines at strategic sites on campus with specifically selected seed-balls. 

  • Develop an educative and interactive app as detailed in question 6.

  • Other organisms such as insects, birds and small mammals that digest the seed-balls may also contribute an increased and widespread application across the campus.

  • The research isolates specific seed mixes to their intended location on campus, aligning plants with the varying ecosystems and built environment.  Natives and exotics are intended to be located with their correlating landscape type over the campus. I.e natives with the more natural settings, and exotics with the more cultivated areas. 

Seeding:  Does an alternative way of dispersing seeds in the built environment lead to successful new ecosystems? 

Research regarding the selection of seed types is based on the plants’ abilities to produce aromas that may confound the mosquito sensory organs and appropriateness to campus microclimates and ecotones. The research project team will record and document over time how well the specific plants germinate and contribute to their local ecosystems.  The plants selected flower and grow well in spring and summer conditions coinciding with the mosquito season. 

Masking:  Does increasing the number of aromatic plants within the natural environment help minimise the mosquitoes irritation to humans, and in what quantities are they required?

The research team is interested in the success of these specific plants being able to mask the mosquito sensory organs.  We will need to investigate the quantity in which these plants successfully germinate and produce aromas based on the scale of their environment. The research team will also document if the new ecosystems are effective in dissuading mosquitoes. 

The research team is interested in the success of these specific plants being able to mask the mosquito sensory organs.  We will need to investigate the quantity in which these plants successfully germinate and produce aromas based on the scale of their environment. The research team will also document if the new ecosystems are effective in dissuading mosquitoes. 

Educating: How can we educate UON about the importance of sharing habitats with all living beings and strive for sustainable built environments?

Through the app (we will analyse and use data analytics) and direct action we hope to inspire deeper understandings and develop alternative regimes of care in our built environments. 

If the initial experiments in this project are deemed successful, we will establish a report of the findings and formalise the outcomes.  Following this research report, we will propose how to implement a full-scale university wide plan which could be adopted as part of experimental, learning laboratory approaches to campus environments. This plan would integrate into wider strategic planning efforts to improve campus environments and engage students at the centre of our efforts.

Funding

The $5,000 will be spent over the following areas

  • Smart phone App images and content development = $1,000
  • Materials for seed-balls = $1,000
  • Gumball dispensers = $2,000
  • Installation of dispensers = $1,000

Challenges & Wins

We have done a comprehensive literature review which support our hypotheses and a series of initial campus site analysis. Members of the team have completed a number of live research projects to do with innovation in planting design and educative environments. We have also completed a number of design activist approaches and successfully delivered diverse projects in the public realm. We have also won a number of design research and architectural competitions.

Creative Approach

It is unconventional and creative in how it aspires to engage others into the activity of the research project. It is by definition action research. It is creative in how it combines the challenge subject matter with an empathy for human and non-human environments as intertwined. And possibly it is unconventional because it repurposes a guerilla gardening technique, seed bombing, into a very different context.

Our Team

  • Team name "Germinate"

  • Team Lead Miranda Cunningham

  • Team members SueAnne Ware, Taona Afful, Nicholas Flatman, D'Arcy Newberry-Dupe & Miranda Cunningham

+ 15 more
Share this project:

Updates