Research in the Thain Family Forest

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Research in the Thain Family Forest


The Thain Family Forest is a living laboratory that has several ongoing research projects to monitor the health of the Forest and to evaluate ecological restoration projects.

Forest Inventory Transect Study

Since 2001, Garden staff have been sampling fourteen, 10-meter wide transects across the Forest. The data collected includes all trees and shrubs that are 1 cm or greater in diameter at breast height (DBH at 4.5 feet) and herbaceous plants and tree seedling percent cover. The data collected from this study is used to monitor how the Forest is changing, the success of invasive plant management, and to help prioritize ongoing restoration work i.e., which invasive plants are currently on the rise or which areas of the Forest need more work. The results of the 2011 survey has shown that the Amur honeysuckle and Amur corktree management has been successful, but that the Japanese angelica tree is currently on the rise. To learn more about the results from these studies check out this poster.

Long-term Redback Salamander Monitoring

The eastern redback salamander (Plethodon cinereus) can act as an indicator of forest health in northeastern deciduous forests. In 2010, a long-term monitoring study was established in the Thain Family Forest to document the abundance and distribution of eastern redback salamanders throughout the Forest. See a blog post featuring a short video documentary focusing on the salamander study on the NYBG blog, Plant Talk.

Citizen Science Phenology Monitoring

To study the impacts of climate change on the Thain Family Forest, the Garden engages volunteers in collecting important scientific data on specific species of trees. With training by experts, these citizen scientists learn about eight native tree species and how to collect and input data on the seasonal biological processes of those species in the Forest such as when leaves, flowers, and fruits appear (a science known as phenology).

Working with partners at the National Phenology Network and the Northeast Regional Phenology Network, the Garden has tailored its program to match the needs of scientists who use the collected data to study various aspects of climate change. Equally important, the program allows participants to learn about and actively engage in plant biology, forest ecology, and similar sciences as well as gain an intimate knowledge of the beautiful Thain Family Forest.

If you would like to participate as a citizen scientist, please contact Volunteer Services.

Knotweed Management Study

This study is in partnership with the Bronx River Alliance and the Natural Resources Group of the Department of Parks and Recreation to help determine best management practices for controlling Japanese knotweed. The project management techniques include cutting the Japanese knotweed back three times a year and grubbing the Japanese knotweed rhizomes two times a year. The data we are collecting will document the impacts of this management on plant species diversity, plant species percent cover, restoration tree establishment, and Japanese knotweed height and stem count. This project has been supported by a grant from WCS-NOAA Regional Parternship Grants (2009 to 2011).

Macroinvertebrate Monitoring

Freshwater streams are one the most biologically diverse ecosystems on earth. They share interdependence with forests, outflow into larger bodies of water, and are greatly impacted by overuse, pollution, and urbanization. This project involves student and Citizen Science monitoring of macroinvertebrates and water quality of the Forest stream along the Sweet Gum Trail and the Bronx River. Using the Stroud Leaf Pack Network protocols, kick netting, and the Bronx River Alliance’s water quality protocols, students, and Citizen Scientists collect data on the biodiversity and water quality of the stream. These data document the health and interdependence of the Forest stream and Bronx River ecosystem. This project is in partnership with Garden volunteers and the Bronx River Alliance.

Permanent Forest Reference Plots

These long-term research plots were installed in the Forest in the 1980s to document change over time. The plots are actively monitored as part of the ongoing research in the Thain Family Forest.

MillionTreesNYC Mortality Plots

In 2009, two permanent forest research plots were installed within Forest to monitor the success of the ongoing restoration efforts and as part of the larger, city-wide MillionTreesNYC project. The data are collected annually and shared with The City of New York Parks & Recreation’s Natural Resources Group.

Selected publications from research in the Thain Family Forest:

Gregg et al, 2003
McDonnell and White, 1988
McDonnell and Pickett, 1990
Munshi-South and Kharchenko, 2010
McDonnell et al, 1997
Rudnicky and McDonnell, 1989
Rachlin et al, 2007
Leonardi, 1987