Research Interest II:
Ecological Conservation, Ecosystem Dynamics and the Appreciation of Nature
I have a number of projects at various stages of implementation and with various research foci. Students are welcome to become involved in any aspect of these studies. I have classified the studies by geographic region: Niagara Gorge, Western New York, and New York State.
The Niagara Gorge is a seven-mile long gorge that contains a fascinating mixture of forest types and serves as an important part of the tourist experience of many millions of people each year. Although much is known about the Niagara Falls at the head of the gorge, and although there have been numerous botanical surveys of the gorge forests, very little is known about the geography or history of the plant communities of the gorge. Two studies I am planning are as follows.
Ecosystem dynamics and ecological restoration
What forest types are present in the Niagara Gorge, and how have they
changed over time? To answer this, the present forest types will be
surveyed, sampled and mapped using GIS and Remote Sensing.
Mapping of landscape aesthetic
Old growth representation
Are there representatives of all potential types of old growth forests in WNY? This question will be addressed by surveying the composition of the known old growth stands and by using GIS to compare them with adjacent forests, as indicated by the Forest Inventory and Analysis records.
Old growth aesthetics
One reason that old growth forests have attracted so much attention is their aesthetics. However, how much of their beauty and grandeur is physically visible, and how much of it is based on the abstract idea of it being "old growth"? To test this, the aesthetic experience of recreationists passing through old growth, and nearby non-old growth forests, will be surveyed.
Old growth dynamics
How have old growth forests changed in composition over time? How frequently do they experience disturbances? The first question will be addressed by using tree-rings to reconstruct the history of living and dead trees in selected old growth forests in WNY. The second question will be addressed by using GIS and statistics to analyze tree ages across a large area of old growth in Allegheny State Park.
The New York Natural Heritage Program has identified and described many rare and endangered species and communities. This information, however, is scientific in format and not easy for the average person to appreciate.
The goal of this project will be to create a handbook that school and university students can use to reflect on the scientific and personal dimensions of ecological conservation. Scientific information will therefore be balanced with social uses and humanistic responses.
A handbook of rare and endangered species and communities will be created that, for each entity, will contain four pieces of information: objective information about the biology of that individual species or community (including pictures); objective information about the geographic and ecological context of the species or community (e.g. maps, and descriptions of what it needs and doesn't need from the surrounding area); subjective social information about how humans have used that species or community (positively and negatively); and subjective, personal reflections by local people about what that species or community is to them. The handbook would be made available over the web, and published as a book.
This project will involve extensive travel and exploration around New York State, and holding discussions with interested people that live nearby the endangered species and communities.