The following, approved field studies are being conducted by Research Associates formally affiliated with Mohonk Preserve.
Understanding climate change
Since 1896, daily weather conditions (including temperature and precipitation) have been recorded at the Mohonk Lake Cooperative Weather Station established by the U.S. Weather Bureau. The instruments and location of the weather station have virtually stayed the same since then--providing one of the longest and most consistent weather records available.
For the last several years, staff at the Mohonk Preserve's Daniel Smiley Research Center have worked with Benjamin I. Cook of the NASA/Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory to analyze this unique weather record and compare it to records on the timing of seasonal events (like plant blooms and migratory bird arrival) that date back to the 1920s. This ongoing research indicates how wildlife and vegetation are faring on the Ridge, and offers insight into the local, regional, and national impacts of climate change. Read about the importance of the Preserve's weather records in a New York Times article.
The longevity of these data sets show how temperature, precipitation, and even the timing of the seasons has changed over the years. As the climate changes, some species respond. Coupling the weather data with dates of first bloom, the spring emergence of insects and amphibians, and spring arrival dates of birds, illustrates how some species are responding. Climate change isn’t just affecting the Polar Bears in the Arctic. It’s affecting species right here in your back yards.
In another study, Research Associate Dr. Dorothy Peteet, of the NASA/Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University has been looking for signs of when plants first appeared after the retreat of the last ice sheet. This work shows how a changing climate supported the evolution of forests, wetlands, and plant, animal, and human life in the Shawangunks in the last 14,000 years.
Investigating deer impacts on forests
In the last century, the number of deer across the Northeast has grown because of the historic elimination of their natural predators and expanding development (which provides deer with plentiful food and habitat through lawns, gardens, and wooded edges). As a result, tree seedlings, shrubs, and other vegetation are heavily browsed, and some critical forest areas are simply not regenerating. At high risk are the Shawangunk Ridge's signature chestnut oak forests, which provide food for many animals; contain native plants and flowers like orchids, trillium, and jack-in-the-pulpit; and are key nesting areas for birds like ruffed grouse, wood thrush, and warblers.
In 2007, the Shawangunk Ridge Biodiversity Partnership received a $150,000 grant from New York State to protect bird populations threatened by intense deer browsing. As a member of the Partnership, the Preserve is managing this grant, which supports the testing and implementation of strategies (such as deer fencing and hunting) to mitigate deer impacts and a better understanding of the reasons behind and ecological implications of expanding deer populations. This work is part of the Preserve's deer management program.
Carol Rietsma, Associate Professor of Biology at SUNY New Paltz and a 2009 Loewy Family Foundation-funded research fellow, is invetigating the impacts of deer browsing on the composition and survival of vegetation in forests. Since 1998, Rietsma has compared vegetation inside fenced deer exclosure and in open plots. She is now focusing more closely on chestnut oak forests and the role of controlled burns in those areas.
Supporting raptors on the ridge
A new home for black vultures
When it arrived here in 1981, the black vulture made the Preserve its most northerly known location in the United States. In 1997, Research Associate Joe Bridges was the first to document the bird's breeding, and continues to study how this generally southern resident is able to expand its range, complete its breeding cycle, and feed, forage, and carry out other activities. So far, this work indicates that black vultures are remarkably resilient and tolerant of human activity such as rock climbing, and the population is doing well and apparently not negatively impacting the habitat and same food sourcs of its native cousin the turkey vulture.
Return of the Peregrine
Once highly endangered in the United States due to the widespread use of the pesticide DDT (which thinned the shells of many birds of prey), Peregrine falcons have made a remarkable comeback. But the species is still considered endangered in several U.S. states, including New York. In 1998, the Peregrine began to return to the Shawangunk Mountains to nest and reproduce in protected cliff habitats, and by 2007 there were two nesting pairs at different locations. Today, the Preserve partners with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation in the monitoring of Peregrines. Since 2005, the Cliff Defenders Habitat Stewardship Program has engaged visitors in helping to minimize impacts in cliff and rock climbing areas, so that this majestic bird can survive and soar in our region.
Since 2007, Dr. Glenn Proudfoot of Vassar College has tracked the movement and behavior of the tiny Saw-whet owl, working at the Preserve as a Loewy Family Foundation-supported Research Fellow and now as an Associate. Dr. Proudfoot has carefully caught, weighed, and measured hundreds of owls, many of which have been banded so that their migration patterns can be determined. This work has shown that Saw-whets from as far away as the Midwest and Ontario rely on the Preserve as a critical migration stopover. Known as an "indicator species" whose presence or absence reflects the health of the broader environment, the tiny Saw-whet tells a big story.
Focusing on fire
The Shawangunk Ridge Biodiversity Partnership, of which Mohonk Preserve is a member, has been studying the recovery of the burned area in Minnewaska State Park Preserve following the large Overlooks wildfire there in April 2008. The fire taught important lessons about what can happen when a mature forest burns and how this natural phenomenon promotes forest health. As a result, researchers have been able to monitor the beneficial effects of fire on the habitat and diversity of bird species.
SRBP is also leading efforts to use controlled burns in fields and forests at Mohonk Preserve and other places. For the last several years, burns have been conducted in the fall and spring by experienced crews, who work closely with meteorologists and researchers to determine when conditions are right for a burn to take place and the best locations to have a beneficial ecological impact. Controlled burns achieve several goals, including restoring habitat for birds and other wildlife and encouraging forest regeneration.
Considering forest change
In 2008, Research Associates Drs. K. Greg Murray and Kathy Winnett-Murray of the Department of Biology at Hope College, along with Student Assistant Faith Whitehouse, launched an investigation of the decline of Hemlocks. This majestic tree has been in decline across the Northeast in recent years due to infestation by the non-native insect, Hemlock Woolly Adelgid, and Elongated Hemlock Scale.
As Hemlocks die, more light reaches the forest floor and other trees and vegetation grow in their place--potentially altering the species make-up in the Preserve's forests and impacting soil moisture. Conducted in infested stands of Hemlocks along Lower Laurel Ledge Road and Trapps Road,the study yielded information that will be compared to conditions in currently uninfested sites at the Hope College Nature Preserve and Saugatuck Dunes State Park in western Michigan.
Conservation in the Mohonk Preserve Foothills
In 2016, the Preserve's Conservation Science research associates and interns expanded bird research with surveys, banding and monitoring projects to study breeding, foraging and migratory behaviors in the woodlands and meadows of the Mohonk Preserve Foothills. Their work will help the Preserve understand how birds live and move through the landscape to guide conservation strategies.