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Indianapolis Skyline and White River
Center for Urban Ecology and Sustainability

Past Projects


The CUES’s early experiences with urban ecology culminated in a 2013 publication in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment entitled “Trials of the Urban Ecologist”. Below is an archive of CUES projects: completed, but not forgotten!


StreamLines was an interactive, place-based project that uses the arts to advance the Indianapolis community’s understanding and appreciation of the city’s waterways. The project featured art created for sites along six Indianapolis waterways, inviting the community to learn, explore, and experience the science of local water systems:

  • Five visual art installations by Mary Miss/City as Living Laboratory® (MM/CaLL)
  • A series of dance performances by Butler University Department of Dance
  • Six musical compositions curated by Michael Kaufmann/The Kinetic Project
  • A collection of poems penned by Indiana poets selected by Poets House

Make Change Indy

In Fall 2012 the CUE received two years of funding from the Environmental Protection Agency Small Urban Waters grant to initiate a community currency program that incentivized positive environmental action in the Midtown neighborhood of Indianapolis. In 2014, Make Change expanded into two additional neighborhoods (Near Eastside and Fountain Square) through generous funding from SustainIndy and Smallbox in 2014. The Make Change program encouraged positive environmental behavior through incentivized community engagement. Participants chose and performed an activity from a defined list of qualifying environmental actions, reported activities through an online form, and tagged “@MakeChangeIndy” in activity photos posted to social media. Community currency was then mailed to participants who redeemed it at participating local businesses with sustainable business practices. The businesses were then fully reimbursed for the exchanged currency amount from grant funds.

In total, the program had 400 participants committing 936 hours to environmental action. In December 2014, Indianapolis Monthly
magazine recognized Make Change as one of the “Best of Indianapolis” for the “Best Reason to be an Environmentalist.”

Rain Barrel and Cistern Project

In Fall 2009 the CUE was awarded a grant from United Water to implement its Rain Barrel and Cistern Project. The project installed rain barrels at six sites in Indianapolis, and collected water quality samples from those sites, as well as 20 other sites that already had rain barrels or cisterns. The project examined the water quality of water captured by the barrels. Additionally, the project generated a "micro-green infrastructure" map for the entire city.

Urban Turtle Ecology Research Project (UTERP)

During the 2009 field season, Dr. Travis Ryan and the CUE investigated the occurrence of turtles in retention ponds throughout northern Indianapolis. A visual survey of nearly 70 retention ponds and other small ponds and lakes showed more than half (57%) were inhabited by at least one of six species of turtles. The distance between streams, rivers, lakes, and other sources of new turtle population and the size of the pond influenced occupancy, with larger ponds that are closer to a source being more likely to be inhabited. The density of turtles in the retention ponds was less than that of the Central Canal where more extensive studies have been conducted.

Conner, C.A., Douthitt, B.A., Ryan, T.J. 2005. Descriptive ecology of a turtle assemblage in an urban landscape. The American Midland Naturalist 153(2): 428-435.

Ryan, T.J., Lambert A. 2005. Prevalence and colonization of Placobdella on two species of freshwater turtles (Graptemys geographica and Sternotherus odoratus). Journal of Herpetology 39(2): 284-287.

Ryan, T.J., Conner, C.A., Douthitt, B.A., Sterrett, S.C., Salsbury, C.M. 2008. Movement and habitat use of two aquatic turtles (Graptemys geographica and Trachemys scripta) in an urban landscape. Urban Ecosystems 11(2): 213-225.

Peterman, W.E., Ryan, T.J. 2009. Basking behavior of Emydid turtles (Chysemys picta, Graptemys geographica, and Trachemys scripta) in an urban landscape. Northeastern Naturalist 16(4): 629-636.

Urban Squirrel Ecology Research Project (USERP)

In 2009, Dr. Carmen Salsbury and the CUE monitored urban tree squirrel populations living on and around the Butler campus. The summer of 2009 marked the seventh year of data collection through live-trapping. One-hundred and eleven captures of fox (Sciurus niger) and 24 captures of Eastern gray (S. carolinensis) squirrels from Butler's campus and 57 captures of fox squirrels at Eagle Creek Park were recorded. These data added to a multi-year dataset that helped understand the population dynamics of tree squirrels living within a suburban/urban landscape and genetic diversity of these populations. Residential areas around campus were also surveys to estimate squirrel leaf nest abundance and distribution.

Salsbury, C.M. 2008. Distribution patterns of Sciurus niger (Eastern Fox Squirrel) leaf nests within woodlots across a suburban/urban landscape. Northeastern Naturalist 15(4): 485-496.

Salsbury, C.M., Dolan, R.W., Pentzer, E.B. 2004. The distribution of fox squirrel (Sciurus niger) leaf nests within forest fragments in central Indiana. The American Midland Naturalist 151(2): 369-377.

Urban Ecology Monitoring Projects

The CUE has participated in monitoring projects since 2008. Ongoing campus monitoring projects that have helped to restore and steward the Butler Campus include the Bluebird Nestbox Project, Hoosier Riverwatch, and Monarch Watch.

As part of the Keep Indianapolis Beautiful project “I-70: A Greener Welcome,” CUE staff, faculty, and students monitored plants and wildlife at four of restoration sites over three years.

The CUE also partnered with the St. Clair Place neighborhood to monitor a section of the neighborhood that was to be converted to urban agriculture.

Student Projects

Since 2008, students have led projects exploring food access, environmental planning and management, and conservation through honors theses and the Environmental Practicum course.