The Gorge is involved in a number of long-term research projects that include staff, Gorge WTP, and graduate students along with regional collaborators. Staff also sit on review boards, graduate student committees, and act as expert consultants. Below are some of our notable projects.
Gotham Coyote Project
Gorge Personnel and Partners: Chris Nagy (staff), Mark Weckel (AMNH), Jason Munshi-South (Fordham), Melissa Grigione (Pace), Scott Silver (Wildlife Conservation Society), Suzanne Clemente (Pace University), Ann Toomey (Lancaster University), Cat Burns (San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory)
Since 2010, Gorge staff and our partners have examined the distribution and occupancy patterns of coyotes in southern Westchester and New York City. Recently, we have moved into genetic sampling to get a better picture of the population structure of this species in NYC, and, most likely eventually, Nassau and Suffolk Counties in Long Island. Click here to view the project website.
Hudson to Housatonic Initiative
Gorge Personnel and Partners: H2H is led by Highstead Foundation (on behalf of Fairfield County Regional Conservation Partnership), Westchester Land Trust, Housatonic Valley Association, and the Gorge. The H2H project is funded in part through a grant awarded by the U.S. Forest Service, Northeastern Area State and Private Forestry. This institution is an equal opportunity provider. Gorge staff invovled: Sarah Hoskinson, Rod Christie.
The Gorge is part of a new inter-state collaboration of more than two dozen conservation organizations and partners across southwestern Connecticut and Westchester and Putnam Counties in New York State. The Hudson to Housatonic Conservation Initiative (H2H) engages landowners to protect imperiled steams, drinking water reservoirs, and plant and wildlife habitat.
Gorge Personnel and Partners: Chris Nagy, Mark Weckel (AMNH), Rod Christie, Adam Zorn (J.T. Huston / J.D. Brumbaugh Nature Center), Mike Rubbo (Teatown), Steven Ricker (Westmoreland Sanctuary)
Wild Suburbia is a citizen science-based study examining the distributions of bobcat, coyote, red fox, black bear, and fisher in the Westchester/Fairfield area. We use volunteer-submitted sightings of these species at peoples’ homes and chance sightings along roads, trails, etc. to model the distribution and habitat selection of these relative newcomers — or returning after a long absence — to our communities. The goals of the project are to examine how these carnivores are figuring out how to make a living in the suburban ecosystem, to educate people about the importance of top predators, while informing residents about prudent strategies to coexist with their non-human neighbors.
Development of Post-Agricultural Forest Restoration Strategies
Gorge Personnel and Partners: Rod Christie, Chris Nagy, Mark Weckel (AMNH), Dan Aitchison (Westchester County Parks)
Much of the protected open space in our region is an odd mix of a few fast-growing 50 – 100 year old hardwood trees with a fairly thin understory. Many native herbaceous and shrub species are rare or completely missing, while a few exotic and/or invasive species are becoming more and more common. The reasons for this limited species assemblage are many, but are primarily due to three main causes:
- Intense white-tailed deer herbivory limits the growth of native wildflowers, slow-growing trees, and native shrubs. Deer numbers are high in our are because of the lack of top predators and the transformation to suburban development is ideal deer habitat.
- Centuries of intense tilling, agriculture, and pasture use (mostly sheep in our area) has altered the soils from what historically existed. This changes what species tend to grow back.
- Most of the trees we see in our forests began growing about 50 – 100 years ago — after farming stopped but before deer abundances skyrocketed. Thus we often see a closed canopy of maples, birch, tulip, with a few lucky red oaks, and that is all.
The purpose of this study is to combine our deer management efforts with forestry and botanical methods to design an effective, comprehensive hardwood forest restoration plan that can be used by managers in our region. We are working to figure out ways that, given ~20% reduction in deer densities via archery programs, land managers can alter the age structure and species assemblage that will encourage regrowth of important and/or rare tree, shrub, and wildflower species in a time- and cost-efficient manner. This is a very ambitious, long-term project with a lot of experimentation, but we hope to provide simple and effective methods to increase the biodiveristy of our “post-ag” suburban forests.
Ecological Monitoring and Management Alliance (EMMA)
Gorge Personnel and Partners: Chris Nagy, Rod Christie, Mike Rubbo (Teatown), Kerissa Fuccillo and Keri VanCamp (Vassar College), Dawn O’Neal (Huyck Preserve), Vicky Kelly (Cary Institute), Jessica Arcate Schuler (New York Botanical Garden), Mark Weckel (AMNH), Dan Aitchison (WC Parks), John Thompson (Mohonk Preserve)
EMMA is a joint effort amongst scientists and land managers of our region (roughly Southeastern NY) to standardize methods and collect data on a large scale regarding a suite of important ecological questions. At this point, we are looking at 3 main topics:
- The effect of deer on woody (tree and shrub) regeneration and soil processes
- Phenological (seasonal) changes due to urbanization and climate change of native trees, shrubs, and wildflowers
- Robust methods for monitoring deer densities over long time scale and wide geographic areas.
- Long-term weather and climate patterns