Roxbury Report FEP March 2008

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   1 Roxbury Farm Biodiversity: Conservation and Agroecological Considerations Farmscape Ecology Program February 2008 INTRODUCTION This work was undertaken with two main goals: 1) to help provide more detailed information about the interaction between Roxbury’s farming activity and habitat for native species and 2) to contribute to Roxbury’s understanding of the interaction of how wild plant and animal species may affect agricultural production. We have much more experience addressing the former than the latter, however we recognize the importance of looking at wild species management from both perspectives. We hope that our dabbling in agroecology is a first step that helps us become more versed and useful in this realm. As one of us was recently told, ‘Anything worth doing, is worth doing poorly.’ So, please bear with us and let us know your comments – they will help us learn. Most of the fieldwork reported here was done during the summer of 2007. The pond work was conducted during 2006 while some snow tracking, ground checking and bird snooping occurred in early 2008. We focused most of our attention on areas that were or recently had been influenced by active farming. In addition, relating to the focus of an upcoming study, we also spent substantial time exploring floodplain forests. The wooded uplands received relatively little attention and the swamp on the SW corner of the property eluded us for much of the study because we didn’t realize that it lay on Roxbury property. In most cases, our work was primarily descriptive, and we essentially roamed about describing what we could see. While we made several visits to Roxbury during the year, we doubtless missed certain seasonal events – the blooming of certain flowers, the flight of certain insects, the migratory passage of certain birds. Thus our lists are not exhaustive. We do hope they are more or less representative of what you find on the Farm. This report has two main parts and they overlap somewhat. Specifically, we first present a description, organized by plant and animal group, of the wild species found on the Farm. We try to introduce the flora and fauna and highlight those species of conservation interest. Where appropriate, we also discuss the potential influence of these organisms on farm production, i.e., we touch upon agroecology. We hope that this first part gives you an overview of some of the organisms on your farm. The second section is map based. That is, we present a habitat map and a habitat-by-habitat discussion of the conservation and management issues relating to each habitat. Obviously, there is some redundancy here – if, in the previous section, we described certain species of conservation interest, then, in this section, we will mention them again in relation to their particular habitats. We hope that this second part is useful in a practical sense and lets you quickly find information regarding a specific portion of your farm. Finally, at various points in the report, we have highlighted particular studies or monitoring that we believe might help us learn important information. These are an invitation to you. Please let us know which if any of these studies seem interesting and worthwhile.   2 PART1: DESCRIPTIONS OF THE PLANTS AND ANIMALS PLANTS  Plant Conservation There are close to 1300 species of plants growing wild in Columbia County. Two thirds of these are considered native species, meaning that they were here before European settlement. One third of the wild plants srcinated in Europe or Asia (and very few from South America or the Western US), and they have been either intentionally or unintentionally introduced to our region. Plant conservation efforts are directed exclusively at native species, attempting to “save all the pieces” that were here before European settlement. Usually, plant conservation measures focus on rare species. There are 57 plant species in Columbia County that are listed as endangere d   or threatene d  , and a larger number is protected as exploitably vulnerable (= likely to become threatened in the near future) by the State of New York. Approximately 200 more species are considered regionally-rare by Hudsonia. These state-protected and regionally-rare plants, which we will refer to as species of conservation interest, are highlighted in bold in the plant list attached in Appendix 1. Wild Plants on Farms A large percentage of the introduced plants are well adapted to our European-style agriculture and therefore thrive well on farms, making up the bulk of plants on pastures and hay meadows (which often have been srcinally seeded with varieties of European grasses and legumes), competing as weeds with cultivated plants, and gracing the edges (along farm roads, fence rows, and margins between intensively managed and natural habitats). There are few bothersome weeds that are actually native to our region (e.g., Ragweed), but most native plants do not compete well in the fertile and frequently disturbed soil of cultivated fields. Even in pastures and hayfields, the native plants are usually in the minority, both in terms of species numbers and coverage. Nevertheless, farms in Columbia County can provide plenty of habitat for native plants. So far, we have found approximately 400 native plant species on Columbia County farms. The on-farm habitats that are often rich in native plant species are wet meadows, swamps (wetlands dominated by woody vegetation), ponds/marshes, streams/creeks/ditches and their associated upland corridors of unmanaged or lightly managed vegetation, upland forest and fencerows (if they are remnants of upland forest or have been established for a long time), upland old fields and shrublands. In our studies of Columbia County farms, we have now documented at least 54 species of conservation interest in wetlands, shrubby old fields, and farm woodlots.  Plants of Conservation Interest on Roxbury Farm We should emphasize that our plant survey from Roxbury Farm is far from complete and that we focused our search for native plants on areas where we expected the most plants of conservation interest. Appendix 1 presents a list of all the plants we documented on Roxbury Farm and the habitats where we saw them, complemented with the plant list published by Hudsonia in 2004 for the Martin Van Buren Historical Site and the South Farm of Roxbury Farm. This merged list contains almost 500 plant species, 213 of which were reported only by Hudsonia (and a few of these might exclusively occur on the Martin Van Buren Site, where we did no work). It is certainly no exaggeration to say that there are at least 500 plant species, 330 of them native, growing wild on Roxbury Farm. At least thirty-five wild plant species on Roxbury Farm are of conservation interest. In the following, we will introduce the main groups of native vascular plants found on Roxbury Farm, discuss where they are found on the farm, and provide ecological background that helps understand some of these distribution patterns. We categorize the plants into Spring Ephemerals; Native Herbs and Wildflowers; Native Grasses; Sedges, Rushes and Cattails; Native Aquatic Plants; Native Vines and Lianas; Native Shrubs; Native Trees; and Invasive (Introduced) Plants. We consider these in turn below. Spring ephemerals  are a group of herbaceous forest plants that emerge before the leafing-out of the tree canopy and provide early-season pollen (and to a lesser degree, nectar) sources for bees, butterflies and other insects. Strictly speaking, these are a subgroup of the following category, but we highlight them here because of their beauty and specialized ecology. They sometimes complete their entire lifecycle (seed to seed) between April and June (e.g., False   3Mermaid Weed). Most spring ephemerals, however, are perennials that sprout from bulbs, tubers, or rhizomes early in spring. Their green parts wilt before the end of summer, sometimes leaving fruits displayed on isolated dry fruiting stalks (e.g., Wild Leek). A dense and diverse flora of spring ephemerals often seems to indicate forests that have not been cleared of their canopy in a long time. Indeed, studies by others have shown that these plants are very slow to recolonize cleared areas. Many spring ephemerals thrive best in deep, rich, moist soils. At Roxbury Farm, the richest community of spring ephemerals was found in the floodplain forests along Kinderhook Creek. They included the NYS-protected Bloodroot, Red Trillium, and White Baneberry, the regionally-rare Dutchman’s Breeches, False Mermaid Weed, and Spring Beauty, as well as Wild Leek (“Ramp”), Trout Lily, Skunk Cabbage, False Solomon’s Seal, Early Meadow Rue, amongst others. We did not survey “Southern Swamp” during the spring months. We would expect some of these spring ephemerals to thrive there as well. All other swamps and upland forests at Roxbury Farm did not have a rich spring flora. Skunk Cabbage was the most ubiquitous spring ephemeral, basically present in all the swamps. Trout Lily and False Solomon’s Seal grew on the wooded hill on North Farm, Red Trillium in the forest surrounding the “Old Lower Pond”. This relative poverty in spring ephemerals is most likely due to the young age of most upland forest and wooded swamp patches on Roxbury Farm. Even the spring ephemerals in the Floodplain Forest certainly do not represent a “pristine” situation. Deer are famous for their ability to significantly impact spring flower populations by grazing. We monitored a dense patch of more than 200 young Meadow Lily plants, first observed on May 7 and by July 5 found no more than five flowering individuals. (Meadow Lily’s are not considered spring ephemerals because they bloom somewhat later, however these flowers occur in the same habitat and we believe the deer probably have a similar impact on spring ephemerals.) There is anecdotal evidence that these lilies are highly sought after by deer in our region. Furthermore, invasive plants (e.g., Garlic Mustard, Dame’s Rocket) are present in the floodplain forest, and although they are not dominant, their presence might modify the native ground flora through competition for light and water, as well as alleopathy (negative chemical interactions). Native herbs and wildflowers  can conveniently be grouped, according to their shade tolerance, into  forest   and meadow  species and, according to their tolerance for “wet feet”, into upland vs. wetland species. Within these broad categories are groups of species that show a preference for certain soils (e.g. calcareous indicators). Some native wildflowers, especially those of forests and certain wetlands, are quite intolerant of changes in their habitat and might not re-colonize a secondary forest or a wetland with modified hydrology. Others are early colonizers who take advantage of freshly or repeatedly disturbed sites. Finally, wildflowers can be grouped according to their flowering times. We already discussed the spring ephemerals in forests. Their strategy of early spring emergence and rapid senescence does not seem to be paralleled by any native meadow plants. Yet meadows and forests do share two flower groups that can be categorized by flowering time: the summer and the fall flowers. The summer flowers are a taxonomically very diverse group that provides most of the native wildflowers from May through August. The fall flowers are dominated by plants of the aster family –including Goldenrods- that burst into bloom in early September and provide pollen and nectar through October. Across all these groups, we found approx. 140 native herbs and wildflowers on Roxbury Farm. For native  forest   herbs and wildflowers , the floodplain forest was again the most interesting habitat. It was the only place on the farm where we found the NYS-protected Cardinal Flower and the regionally-rare Meadow Lily and Giant Ragweed, joining the spring ephemerals later in the season. We found the regionally-rare Halbert-Leaved Tearthumb in the “Southern Swamp” and expect it to harbor additional native herb and wildflower treasures. The other swamps, while not spectacular, had a decent set of native wildflowers, including the NYS-protected Turtlehead (host plant to caterpillars of the Baltimore Checkerspot butterfly) and the more common Skunk Cabbage, Wild Geranium, Early Meadow-rue, Spotted Joe-Pye Weed, and Purplestem Angelica. We don’t have any exciting wildflower finds to report from any of the upland forests. From our experience throughout Columbia County, native   upland meadow wildflowers  tend to be most diverse on poor soils. That is where they can best compete with the European species that are so well adapted to the rich soils that   4farmers strive to create. Most of Roxbury Farm has been in very intensive agricultural management for a very long time, and there are not many areas of poor soils where a diverse community of native wildflowers could thrive. An exception is the area of the abandoned gravel pit where topsoil has been removed and spontaneous re-vegetation of the mineral soil is allowed to take its course without further disturbance. Waste grounds like this are often perceived as eyesores and examples of places where the land has obviously been “hurt”. However, these places can serve as habitat to pioneering native species that get overgrown by other species in better soils, and can become floristically quite diverse, because none of the otherwise common species gets to dominate the scene. On the mineral soil near the “Gravel Pond”, we found many common native upland and wetland wildflowers, plus the regionally-rare Whorled Milkwort and another uncommon plant (most likely a Frostweed). The other place where native wildflowers can come into their own at Roxbury Farm are the old fields. They currently seem to be dominated by Goldenrods and Asters, but might have a potential to be managed for more wildflower diversity. The wet meadows, especially on North Farm, had a decent set of common native   wetland     flowers , although we were surprised by the absence of certain typical wet meadow flowers, such as Swamp Milkweed, and did not find any wildflower species of conservation concern in this habitat at Roxbury Farm (but see section on grasses and sedges, below!). We believe, that there is a potential for the restoration of more diverse wet meadows, simply by reducing the mowing frequency to once every three years. Finally, the edge of the “Upper Pond” also had a decent set of common native wildflowers, it was the only place where we saw a single Swamp Milkweed (regionally not an uncommon wet meadow plant) and we also observed a regionally-rare Great Solomon’s Seal between the “Upper Pond” and the driveway. Native grasses  in our region hardly ever form extensive stands on upland meadows comparable to those of the European pasture grasses, and they also rarely become bothersome weeds in the cultivated fields. Little Bluestem, one of the common prairie grasses in the Midwest, can become prominent on dry hillsides in Columbia County, but there was no Little Bluestem at Roxbury Farm, because there is none of its typical habitat. Of the 16 native grass species found on Roxbury Farm, all but two were species associated with wet meadows and swamps or with streamsides (both, floodplain forest and sand/gravel bars). But even in their preferred habitats, these native grasses usually grow in single clumps, one here, one there, and the smaller species are easily overlooked. Prominent during the fall and winter are the 2m tall, big clumps of the tan-colored, dried stems of Big Bluestem and Switchgrass. Prominent during the summer is the dreaded Rice Cutgrass, which forms impenetrable tangles of its flimsy, razor-sharp stems in wet meadows and open swamps. None of the native grasses at Roxbury were considered regionally-rare, although we had personally never seen Big Bluestem in Columbia County before. Basically all the sedges, rushes and cattails  in our region are native. There are a surprisingly large number of sedges that grow in upland forest regionally, however, at Roxbury Farm, the prime habitat for the 37 native sedges, rushes, and cattails were the same as those for native grasses: the wet meadows, swamps and the floodplain forest. Hudsonia researchers documented a NYS-threatened sedge ( Carex davisii ) from the floodplain forest, and two regionally-rare sedges ( Carex grayii  and Carex squarrosa ) from “Southern Swamp” and the forest along “Muddy Brook”, respectively. We now know of two locations, on North and South Farm, where another regionally-rare sedge ( Carex trichocarpa ) occurs in moist upland meadows near the forest edge. “Gravel Pond” is the only pond on Roxbury Farm that had a diverse flora of native aquatic plants , but we did not find any rare aquatic plants during our survey. Native vines and lianas  were common in the floodplain forest, including two regionally-rare species, Climbing Hempweed (documented by Hudsonia from the South Farm) and Moonseed, found by us on the North Farm. But 12 more common species of native vines and lianas also occurred around the ponds, in upland forest (e.g., grapes), along fence rows, and even in wet meadows (e.g., Poison Ivy) and pasture (e.g., Virginia Creeper). Native shrubs  occurred on Roxbury Farm in upland shrubland, swamp, upland forest, floodplain forest, along fence rows, around ponds, and even in wet meadows. Maybe the most ubiquitous of the 27 native shrub species on the Farm
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