tall green grass in the forest

Forest Program Research

The Thain Family Forest is a living laboratory that has several ongoing research projects with the goals of understanding the impacts of the urban environment on the Forest and evaluating ecological restoration projects. Research in the Forest is conducted by staff, students, and volunteers. Visiting researchers including students are welcome to conduct their research in the Forest please visit the Visiting Research page for more information.

Forest Inventory Transect Study
Since 2001, Garden staff have been sampling fourteen, 10-meter wide transects across the Forest from the western boundary to the Bronx River. 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 are used to monitor how the Forest is changing, to track invasive plant management, and to help prioritize ongoing restoration work such as native plant restoration. The results of the 2011 survey has shown that the Amur honeysuckle and Amur corktree management has been successful in removing the largest specimens but, there are still small Amur corktree present in the Forest. The biggest focus of management recently was derived from these data, the Japanese angelica tree is currently on the rise and the Forest staff is focusing management efforts on this species.

Filling in the Gaps: Plant Establishment After Hurricane Sandy

On October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy caused tremendous damage to the structure of the Forest by uprooting or destroying 167 trees that were 6 inches in diameter at breast height or greater, and creating canopy gaps. While hurricanes and nor’easters have always been part of our region’s natural disturbance regime and have played a major role in shaping the Forest as we know it today, Hurricane Sandy was the most damaging storm in the recorded history of the Garden landscape. The purpose of this study is to assess the newly formed canopy gaps created by Hurricane Sandy, the reestablishment of plant species after the disturbance, and to guide forest management in these newly disturbed areas. In this project, we assess the abundance and distribution of first year tree and herbaceous seedling species in 10 newly formed canopy gaps. 1 m2 plots were placed within the canopy gaps and intact forest along a 10 m transect north and south of the center of the canopy gap.

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, New York Phenology Project, 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, the Natural Resources Group of the Department of Parks and Recreation, and Columbia University to help determine best management practices for controlling knotweed both Japanese knotweed and the hybrid knotweed (Reynoutria x bohemica). The project management techniques include cutting the knotweed back three times a year or cutting the knotweed once and removing 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 was supported by a grant from WCS-NOAA Regional Partnership Grants (2009 to 2011). Project is ongoing 2009 to present.

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 including visiting school groups and Citizen Science monitoring of benthic macroinvertebrates (small animals living among sediments and stones on the bottom of rivers, lakes, and streams. Insects comprise of the largest diversity of these organisms) whose diversity are indicators of 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 monitoring 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, and was supported by the WCS-NOAA Regional Partnership Grants (2011-2013). Project is ongoing 2010 to present.

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

If you would like to participate in a teacher professional development workshop or have your school participate in this project, please contact Children’s Education.


Selected publications from research in the Thain Family Forest:
Atha, D., J.A. Schuler, S.L. Tobing. 2014. Corydalis incisa (Fumariaceae) in Bronx and Westchester Counties, New York. Phytoneuron 96: 1-6.

Munshi-South, J. and C. Nagy. 2014. Urban park characteristics, genetic variation, and historical demography of white-footed mouse (Peromyscus leucopus) populations in New York City. PeerJ 2:e310; DOI 10.7717/peerj.310.

Rachlin J.W., B.E. Warkentine, A. Pappantoniou. 2007. An Evaluation of the Ichthyofauna of the Bronx River, a Resilient Urban Waterway. Northeastern Naturalist 14(4):531-544.

Gregg, J. W., C.G. Jones, and T.E. Dawson. 2003. Urbanization on Tree Growth in the Vicinity of New York City. Nature 424:183-187.

McDonnell, M.J., S.T.A. Pickett, P. Groffman, P. Bohlen, R. Pouyat, W.C. Zipperer, and R.W. Parmelee. 1997. Ecosystem Processes along an urban-to-rural gradient. Urban Ecosystems 1: 21-36.

McDonnell, M.J. and S.T.A.Pickett. 1990. Ecosystem Structure and Function along Urban-Rural Gradients: An Unexploited Opportunity for Ecology. Ecology 71(4): 1232-1237.

Rudnicky, J.L. and M. J. McDonnell. 1989. Forty-Eight Years of Canopy Change in a Hardwood-Hemlock Forest in New York City. Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club 116(1): 52-64.

White, C.S. and M.J. McDonnell. 1988. Nitrogen Cycling Processes and Soil Characteristics in an Urban versus Rural Forest. Biogeochemistry 5(2): 243-262.

Leonardi L. 1987. The Bryophytes of The New York Botanical Garden Forest. Evansia 4: 8-11.

Honkala, D.A. and J.B. McAninch. 1980. The New York Botanical Garden Hemlock Forest Project Part I. NYBG Institutional Report.

Honkala, D.A. and J.B. McAninch. 1981. The New York Botanical Garden Hemlock Forest Project Part II. NYBG Institutional Report.

Moore, B., H.M. Richards, H.A. Gleason, and A.B. Stout. 1924. Hemlock and its environment. Bulletin of The New York Botanical Garden 12(45):325-350.

Britton, N.L. 1906. The Hemlock Grove on the banks of the Bronx River and what it signifies. Contributions from The New York Botanical Garden 88:5-13.

Howe, M.A. and E.G. Britton. 1899. Lists of Plants in the Grounds, 1898. Bulletin of The New York Botanical Garden 1(4): 195-203.