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.

Niagara Gorge

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.

The development of the present-day forests will be reconstructed using aerial photographs that date back to the 1920s, tourist photographs that date back to the 1880s, botanical records that date back to the 1850s, and tree-ring records that date back to the 1500s.

A restoration plan for the forests of the Niagara Gorge will be developed by creating a GIS model using the map of current forest types and the historical reconstruction of the forest composition.

Mapping of landscape aesthetic

The Niagara Gorge contains a diversity of landscape types that offer unique aesthetic experiences. The experience of most people is limited because of accessibility, and because they don't know what is available in the Gorge.

Landscape aesthetics of the Niagara Gorge will be recorded while surveying the forest as part of the "Ecosystem dynamics" project. Sites will be categorized using a combination of Appleton's "prospect-refuge" theory, the Kaplans' preference framework, and Berlyne's sensory arousal.

Types of aesthetic experience will be modeled using GIS and mapped in a form that allows recreationists to explore the Gorge to find experiences that match their desires.

Western New York

Western New York contains close to 100 stands of old-growth forest of varying size and composition, identified through the energetic explorations of the WNY Old Growth Forest Survey. The unique ecological information contained in these stands will be examined in these 3 studies.

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.

New York State

How can we increase the appreciation of rare and endangered species and communities of NYS?

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.