Urbanization’s impacts on flora and fauna in the New York metropolitan region

Lead Principal Investigator: Dr. Catherine Burns, Research Assistant Professor, University of Maine, and Research Affiliate, WildMetro

In collaboration with the University of Maine, and funded by the Earthwatch Institute, WildMetro is conducting one of the first studies aiming to understand the impacts of urbanization across multiple groups of organisms (e.g. birds, mammals, etc.), and to carry out this research by working with volunteers, local citizens, scientists and park managers in the New York metropolitan area. The project aims to quantify the abundance and diversity of mammalian, avian, amphibian and plant communities found within a suite of protected areas spanning a 100 mile gradient of urbanization. Each spring/summer, we work in 8-10 different protected areas in the greater New York metropolitan region, at sites representing the full range of urban to suburban to rural landscapes.

Earthwatch volunteers and project staff gather data on the plant and animal communities at each site using a variety of methods specific to the sampling of each group, including mammal tracking and camera-trapping, amphibian dip-netting and egg mass surveys, breeding bird point-surveys, and exotic and native understory plant community surveys. These data will enable us to assess thresholds of urbanization beyond which biodiversity is significantly compromised, to identify features of protected areas that are particularly effective at sustaining biodiversity, and to determine to what extent different groups of organisms respond similarly to increasing urbanization. We hope that this research will inform management of natural and developing areas in metropolitan regions both locally and globally, and will provide baseline information with which to compare data collected in the future in this ever-changing urban landscape.  Specifically, we aim to understand how the diversity and abundance of plants and animals is impacted by increasing levels of urbanization, and to provide ecological information to managers, planners and policy makers that enable them to make more informed decisions.

During spring and summer 2008 and 2009, this research was conducted by a diverse group of staff research scientists, park managers, students, and volunteers from around the world (including participants from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Luxembourg, France and Japan).  During 2010, this project will continue to grow, and WildMetro expects that this will enable us to expand both our research and education programs to build a larger community-based initiative to protect urban natural resources.

To get involved:
As a volunteer:  Read more about the project and sign up online at the Earthwatch website:  http://www.earthwatch.org/expeditions/burns.html

2010 Earthwatch project dates:

  • Amphibians: May 15-23, 2010
  • Birds: June 19-27, 2010
  • Mammals I: July 3-11, 2010
  • Mammals II: July 24-Aug 1, 2010*
  • Plants: August 7-15, 2010

*Please note, the second 2010 mammal team is a “Teen Team”, for 16-17 year olds only.  See http://www.earthwatch.org/expeditions/burns_teen.html for details.  All other teams are open to volunteers 18 years of age or older.

As a staff member:  We are currently hiring staff to fill our 2010 field positions, including a Field Team Leader who will assist Dr. Burns and the Field Research Coordinator throughout each expedition, and two student interns (preference is given to University of Maine students though others will be considered).  Please email Dr. Burns if you would like to find out more about either of these positions: catherine.burns@umit.maine.edu or cburns@wildmetro.org .



Amphibian CP

Dip-netting for amphibians in Central Park


Amphibian CP

Amphibian team 2008 –
the project’s first team, the brave guinea pigs!


Amphibian CP

Black bear photographed by an automatic
wildlife camera at Black Rock Forest,
one of our 2008 research sites


Amphibian CP

First day of training for the bird team


Amphibian CP

Earthwatch mammal team volunteer
and white-footed mouse during live-trapping
demonstration exercise