SUNY Fredonia College Campus Woodlot

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Erik Danielsen
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SUNY Fredonia College Campus Woodlot

Post by Erik Danielsen » Sun Jan 03, 2016 11:55 pm

My first site report on these boards was Forest Hill Cemetery, in Fredonia NY, wherein a significant diversity of trees retained from the site's primary forest can be observed and enjoyed in a groomed landscape. For such a small community to have such ready access to a preserved piece of old-growth, even in such an altered space as a cemetery, is a stroke of luck for those residents willing to take notice. As it turns out, though, Fredonia is blessed with not one but two easy-to-access sites which provide two very different experiences of the legacy of our primary forests.

SUNY Fredonia's ancestral institution occupied a single building about half a mile from the current campus. In the wake of a fire, the transition to the current campus occurred from the 1930s to the early 70s. The parcel of land containing the woodlot was purchased in 1967. Prior to this the lot was part of an old farm. In 2014 I took core samples of several trees in the woodlot, which confirmed that some individual trees within the woodlot's core predate the settlement of the area; more significantly, these individuals were climax species (beech, sugar maple, and hemlock) exhibiting forest-grown forms, strongly suggesting that they germinated and grew within a mature forest. This is not a classical towering old-growth cathedral, but when the clues are assembled it becomes clear that the SUNY Fredonia College Campus Woodlot offers a priceless link to the region's biological past for those willing to engage with the subtle.
This pairing of sugar maple and beech were both found to be about 200 years old.
This pairing of sugar maple and beech were both found to be about 200 years old.
The woodlot, often referred to as the "ring road woods" or just "forever wild," occupies roughly 14 acres in the northern portion of the campus, bounded by open fields and parking lots. Its southwestern corner is slightly hidden by a steep hill of apparently very recent origin, consisting of fill excavated during the construction of various buildings in the 60s. Numerous trails lace the forest, and being on a college campus, human disturbance is ubiquitous- graffitied beeches, small forts, remnants of set pieces from the theater department's annual "terror in the trees" outdoor haunted-house-style event, etc.

In investigating the woodlot I received invaluable assistance from Professor John Titus in the biology department. One of the resources I made use of is an Honors Thesis from 2002 that sought to characterize the woodlot in terms of species diversity, abundance, and distribution. While I have found the species inventory and historical information valuable, I have found myself strongly at odds with the interpretation of the woodlot's natural history and distribution trends offered within. Roughly, the thesis asserts the woodlot to be old secondary-growth with distribution patterns dependent on elevation (there is a small gradient within the woodlot) and consequent changes in soil moisture. Shagbark hickory and eastern hophornbeam are found almost exclusively in the drier, higher-elevation section and hemlock, sugar maple, and beech mostly just in the wetter lower-elevation section, with the assumption seeming to hold that individuals of similar diameter in both sections suggests that both have spent about the same period of time in regrowth. Telling is the discussion of distribution trends for red pine, in which the author asserts that its presence solely within the higher-elevation area is a result of red pine's preference for well-drained soils.
This might be the most beautiful tree in the forest- it appears to have started life as a very tight fusion. Its sinewy twisted bole rises in a straight column to a stagheaded crown.
This might be the most beautiful tree in the forest- it appears to have started life as a very tight fusion. Its sinewy twisted bole rises in a straight column to a stagheaded crown.
I believe that the evidence suggests a different narrative. While most lots purchased in the initial settlement of the area were rapidly cleared so that indebted settlers could cash in on timber products and immediately put the land into crop rotation, some settlers who were better off purchased larger lots and maintained small pieces of forest as functional woodlots. The lower-elevation portion of this forest, with old-growth specimens in a climax ecology, is also the wettest and would have been poorly suited to cultivation. The forest floor bears this out, displaying textbook pit-and-mound topography that has never seen a plow. When the thesis was written in 2002 there was a noted absence of old deadwood on the forest floor, but scatterings of old logs cut into bolts for firewood (some narrow hemlock bolts with over 170 legible rings) suggest that this is probably because fallen timber was recovered for firewood while the forest was maintained as a woodlot, not because the forest was in a regrowth stage in which fallen trees would be scarce. At present, large fallen logs and standing snags are again becoming abundant in this section, in various states of decay. Old trees are scattered and trees in early maturity common, with young trees and saplings (especially maples, beech and hemlock) abundant. Relieved of human management, this section of old forest is returning to an old-growth ecology, and would be inaccurate to characterize as post-settlement second-growth.
Definitely not a plowed landscape.
Definitely not a plowed landscape.

The slightly drier upland portion, dominated by oaks, hickories, tulip, small elms, and a variety of other species is clearly in a younger state of regrowth and likely was heavily, if not entirely, cleared around the time of settlement. Disturbance history and normal succession biology strike me as much likelier explanations for these distribution trends than a small elevation gradient. The stand of red pine drives the point home- the species simply is not native in this area. They were planted. The younger section contains certain scattered large oaks, hickories, tulips, which may well be contemporary with the pine planting, which itself was probably originally more extensive (a minor norway spruce presence is also suggestive of this). Much of the young section probably went from clearing into pine timber rotation and transitioned into native hardwoods, like many of the region's second-growth forests, but with an absence of management in the last 50 years permitting a denser and more diverse understory than some. The 2002 thesis tallies 42 species of tree; much of this diversity consists of individuals on the edges and in this younger northern section.

An additional line of evidence is the understory flora: in the old section, there is a rich herbaceous understory with trillium, false solomon's-seal, trout lily, club mosses, bloodroot, cardinal-flower, mayflower, jack-in-the-pulpit, and a number of other native species characteristic of rich, minimally disturbed forests. Most of these cannot be found growing wild at any sites within at least half a mile, and some considerably further than that. Given as well that some are dispersed strictly by ants (aside from rhizomatic propogation) the likelihood that this intact an herbaceous community would have reestablished following the regrowth of a sufficient degree of forest cover on the site is extremely low. The richness of the fungal community is also suggestive, and on a more qualitative level it all feels distinctly "richer" in life and diversity across all taxa than the region's typical second-growth forests. Taken altogether, it is most sensible to accept that the southern core section of the woodlot, while far from undisturbed primary forest, is an old-growth ecology.
I found these ants dragging a grub up the vertical side of a large sugar maple snag. The invertebrate biology of this woodlot is rich with unfamiliar sights.
I found these ants dragging a grub up the vertical side of a large sugar maple snag. The invertebrate biology of this woodlot is rich with unfamiliar sights.
Even more weird and wonderful was this harvestman mid-moult looking like some sort of alien creature.
Even more weird and wonderful was this harvestman mid-moult looking like some sort of alien creature.
This southern section of the woodlot is where I have focused my efforts in measurement and aging to this point. It is chiefly a beech-sugar maple-hemlock ecology, with black cherry, northern red oak, yellow birch, and red maple fairly abundant as associate canopy species, tuliptree occasional as an emergent growing closer to edges and in one particular old clearing near the center, and basswood and cucumber magnolia present as single specimens. On the backside of the hill are an assortment of additional species, possibly introduced with the fill material, mostly cottonwood and aspen. Trunks on larger trees tend toward strong buttressing due to the site's very wet soils, and there are many fused red oaks, some of which look like coppice sprouts from stumps cut earlier in the site's history as a woodlot. Canopy heights are typical for a moderately productive site in the region, with sugar maple, beech, and hemlock typically in the upper 80s to lower 90s, black cherry and red oak slightly taller in the upper 90s, and tuliptrees emergent at 105-115. Cucumber Magnolia, basswood, and yellow birch largely keep up with the first set of canopy species. I suspect that there are standout specimens remaining to be found for each of the primary canopy species except tuliptree, so I will not compile a rucker index at this time. I feel that I have learned a lot about profiling and measuring a forest in the time since I last put in a session here, and look forward to doing it full justice on a future visit. In the meantime, I'll share what numbers I do have along with some photographs and age information. Increment cores typically did not reach pith, so a minimum number of legible rings is listed as "nlt" (Not Less Than), followed by an extrapolation based on the difference between core length and trunk radius, approximated to a range of 10 years. Further notes accompany individual notations.
The woodlot's tallest tree, a fusion of two tuliptrees, rises as an emergent.
The woodlot's tallest tree, a fusion of two tuliptrees, rises as an emergent.
Sugar Maple
101.3/8.6'cbh (beautiful form, heavily buttressed)
91.9/6'cbh
91.9/6.9'cbh (this tree grows immediately next to the first)
90.2/8.6'cbh age nlt 180 years, extrapolated to 190-200
82.9/8.7'cbh
Yellow Birch
85.5/5.1'cbh
American Beech
87.7
85.1/7.6'cbh
Unmeasured tree cored- age nlt 170 years, extrapolated to 200-210
Tuliptree (all but the last individual are part of a small grove grown out of a gap in the forest interior)
116/12.8'cbh (fusion with following tree)
114.1/12.8'cbh age nlt 80 years, extrapolated to 100-110
112.4/8.7'cbh
108.7/8.2'cbh
106.8/8.8'cbh (this specimen near the woodlot edge displays characteristics suggestive of greater age than the interior grove).
Cucumber Magnolia
87.5/6.7'cbh not particularly aged in characteristics, near to edge.
Black Cherry
99.3/8.5'cbh
94.6/10'cbh age nlt 130 years, extrapolated 220-230 years but likely less as this short core displayed very dense rings near the outside but much large rings approaching the rot patch in the center where the core ended
88/7.7'cbh
Northern Red Oak
102.9/10.3'cbh
97.9
97.4
95.7/9'cbh
95.6/9.4'cbh
93/9.8'cbh seems to be the oldest oak
American Basswood
86.9/7.1'cbh singular aged specimen in the interior
Eastern Hemlock
88.5
87.4/7.1'cbh
84.3/6.6'cbh
83.4/9.3'cbh age nlt 140, extrapolated 200-210
82.4/5.1'cbh
Chris Merchant (on the boards as "Merchant") standing in one of the dense sections of young hemlock last winter while our group flagged all the trees infested with woolly adelgid. The woodlot was treated over the summer; it will be interesting to observe as time goes on.
Chris Merchant (on the boards as "Merchant") standing in one of the dense sections of young hemlock last winter while our group flagged all the trees infested with woolly adelgid. The woodlot was treated over the summer; it will be interesting to observe as time goes on.

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Lucas
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Re: SUNY Fredonia College Campus Woodlot

Post by Lucas » Mon Jan 04, 2016 3:06 pm

Very interesting analysis.

Do you have an ecology degree?
We travel the Milky way together, trees and men. - John Muir

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Erik Danielsen
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Re: SUNY Fredonia College Campus Woodlot

Post by Erik Danielsen » Mon Jan 04, 2016 3:34 pm

No degree in anything, just a lot of reading, exploring, mistake-making, and generous sharing of information and opportunities by people I've met in person and here on the boards alike.

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dbhguru
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Re: SUNY Fredonia College Campus Woodlot

Post by dbhguru » Mon Jan 04, 2016 5:05 pm

Erik,

Superb analysis. Lots of points that bring to mind similar observations from eastern New York and into New England. For example, the fill such as that you speak of can be identified along canal paths in upstate NY by the abundance of cottonwoods. Analysis of plants dependent on propagation by ants has been used to identify old woodlots around Williamsburg, MA. Dry to wet gradients can easily be identified by the species of trees present even if the elevation changes weren't there. Signs of past cultivation leave their mark as well as exhaustion of the soil. The list of clues to past forest history goes on.

Regarding the species you measured, were there no black birches in the regrowth areas?

Again, superb analysis. BTW, your AF National Cadre membership card is being sent. You should receive it soon. Welcome aboard.

Bob
Robert T. Leverett
Co-founder, Native Native Tree Society
Co-founder and President
Friends of Mohawk Trail State Forest
Co-founder, National Cadre

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Erik Danielsen
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Re: SUNY Fredonia College Campus Woodlot

Post by Erik Danielsen » Mon Jan 04, 2016 5:53 pm

Bob, black birch is actually entirely absent from that region of the lake Erie plain. White oak and black oak are similarly absent. Moving further south up on to the allegheny plateau white oak and then further black birch and black oak and others like pin cherry become more common, and white pine more numerous. By contrast basswood, black walnut and butternut, where found, are mainly on the lake plain and in the first tier of wooded ravines. Sites like Zoar Valley are exceptional in hosting a bit of everything. These patterns don't necessarily hold true elsewhere on the lake plain but seem consistent in chautauqua, erie and cattaraugus counties.

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Bart Bouricius
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Re: SUNY Fredonia College Campus Woodlot

Post by Bart Bouricius » Mon Jan 04, 2016 8:30 pm

Nice information and good arthropod shots. The ants translucent abdomens remind me of Honeypot ants. In Puerto Rico and Peru I have collected some data indicating several cases of different species of ants taking day and night shifts foraging on trees. Much to study in ant plant interactions.

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Jess Riddle
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Re: SUNY Fredonia College Campus Woodlot

Post by Jess Riddle » Tue Jan 05, 2016 7:36 pm

Erik,

Beautiful post. I think this post would be a great way to introduce someone to NTS, or could serve as the basis for a lab in an ecology class. The harvestman photo is wild too.

Jess

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Erik Danielsen
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Re: SUNY Fredonia College Campus Woodlot

Post by Erik Danielsen » Sun Dec 18, 2016 6:57 pm

ENTS,

On Wednesday 11/23 I was able to measure a number of trees in the SUNY Fredonia College Campus Woodlot, for a total of 18 species. Attached is a spreadsheet of all trees measured on that date. Taking these new measurements into account, the site Rucker Height Index is as follows:

Rucker Height Index:

Tuliptree 117.9'
Northern Red Oak 102.9'
Red Maple 102.3'
Sugar Maple 101.3'
Black Cherry 99.3'
Bitternut Hickory 99'
Cottonwood 96.6'
American Beech 94.5'
Shagbark Hickory 93.6'
Eastern Hemlock 88.5'

Average Top Ten: 99.6
Attachments
SUNYFredonia Woodlot 11232016.pdf
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