VCP Where NYC Discovers: Interns Dig Deep for Biodiversity

Written By Alex Byrne

Tim Wheeler, a graduate student from the University of Rouen in Normandy, France, out in the field in Van Cortlandt Park.

With over 1,100 acres of park land Van Cortlandt Park stands as one of New York city’s last refuges for animals adapted to forest and wetland habitat. It truly is where NYC discovers, with great potential for the park to be used as a natural laboratory to understand how urban environments differ from their rural counter parts and how science research can improve our understanding of the effects of different restoration, enhancement and management practices. Starting in May of 2018 ecologists at the Friends of Van Cortlandt Park with help from two college interns have begun a largescale assessment of arthropods to characterize community structure andto generate a park wide map of arthropod diversity (insects, spiders). Additionally, one location for our study, the Tibbetts brook flood plain, is slated for ecological enhancement by FVCP staff to increase the native biodiversity and integrity of ~2.5 acres of flood plain habitat. The data we collect will be used to understand how arthropods, typically highest in animal biomass, respond to the removal of non-native invasive plants and how they reassemble themselves as the habitat recovers from management. We chose to target arthropods as a function of their lack of attention by NYC Parks which typically concentrates a majority of their work and site assessments on the presence or absence of plants. Establishing an arthropod sampling protocol and providing species data will diversify and aid the efforts of NYC Parks. Additionally, we will be collecting a suite of environmental variables to better understand the relationship of arthropods to landscape characteristics with an emphasis on the effects of coarse woody debris, invasive plants, habitat type and soil chemistry. Read more »

Press Release- Tree Plantings Ceremony for FVCP Founders

Tree Plantings Ceremony for Friends of Van Cortlandt Park’s Founders
Monday April 16th at 1pm
Van Cortlandt House Museum

FVCP Founder Felicity Nitz speaking at our 25th Anniversary Gala pictured with Congressman Eliot Engel, Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz and Founder Frances Beinecke.

FVCP Founder Felicity Nitz speaking at our 25th Anniversary Gala pictured with Congressman Eliot Engel, Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz and Founder Frances Beinecke.

The Friends of Van Cortlandt Park (FVCP) celebrated our 25th Anniversary in 2017. Founded in 1992, the Friends of Van Cortlandt Park is an independent community based organization that actively promotes the conservation and improvement of Van Cortlandt Park, the third largest park in NYC, through environmental education and restoration and enhancement of Van Cortlandt Park, its forests and trails.  FVCP celebrated their 25th Anniversary with a gala on Sunday October 15th, 2017 where we honored our 6 Founders: Felicity Nitz, Frances Beinecke, Susan Morgenthau, Elizabeth Scheuer, Jane Sokolow and Sybil Wailand and promised to plant trees in their honors.

At 1pm on Monday April 16th, 2018, the Friends of Van Cortlandt Park along with the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation will plant 6 “Green Mountain” Sugar Maple Trees in honor of FVCP’s 6 Founders along the southern fence of the Van Cortlandt House Museum. Read more »

Testimony for FY19 Parks Budget Hearing

The pedestrian side of the bridge along the John Kieran trail which is currently closed due to safety reasons.

Friends of Van Cortlandt Park’s Executive Director gave the following testimony at the NYC City Council Parks Committee Preliminary FY19 Budget Hearing on Tuesday March 27th, 2018.

Good afternoon.  Thank you for allowing me to testify. My name is Christina Taylor and I am the Executive Director of the Friends of Van Cortlandt Park.  First of all, I want to thank our Councilman Andrew Cohen for his vital support of parks.

We all know that NYC Parks is underfunded.  They have been for many many years and this needs to change.  The Friends would happily join you to urge Mayor de Blasio to increase funding for NYC Parks.

A few years ago, NYC Parks approved a comprehensive Master Plan for the first time in the park’s history, however that Master Plan will never be accomplished in 20 years with the current rate in which project are funded and implemented. Read more »

Natural Selections: It takes about half a day to get there, if you travel by Dragonfly.

Editor’s note: In honor of World Water Day (March 22nd annually) today’s Natural Selections post is focused on Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies) who call Tibbetts Brook and Van Cortlandt Lake home.  Alex Byrne will introduce you to these fascinating creatures and share with you why you spend some time watching them in the Park.

It takes about half a day to get there, if you travel by Dragonfly.

By: Alex Byrne

Predators have always been a part of human culture and experience.  Our intimacy with this act, read in tooth and claw, is a product of being predator and prey, hunter and the hunted. In some way the elevated status we have granted the predator in our species is a reflection of our own inherent and learned sensitivity to danger. The walls of caves have been manipulated through the use of saliva and plant fruits to display cave bears, dire wolfs and hunting human (Siva 2007). The Egyptians created gods out of birds of prey and the predatory perfecta, the felines (Pettigrew 2003). We have managed to take the big bad wolf and create 339 different dog breeds.  In 1902 the US Army Medical Corps adopted the caduceus as an emblem which displays two snakes entwined around a staff, a behavior consistent with the mating behavior of serpents. The evidence for a predator centric society is abound, however a common theme in these predatory idols is the lack of entomological (insect) admiration. Most people do not spend their weekends in wetlands watching dragonfly’s hunt, but they should. Read more »

Natural Selections of VCP: Meet the Carpenter Ant

Editor’s note: We would like to introduce you to our newest blogpost series- Natural Selections of Van Cortlandt Park.  This series will focus on the creatures that call Van Cortlandt Park home.  With well over half of its 1,146 acres being comprised of natural habitats- forests, wetlands, a lake and meadows- many plants and animals live in or rely on Van Cortlandt Park.  Each post in Natural Selections will highlight and introduce you to one or a family of those creatures.  During this first post, Alex Byrne will introduce you all to some of the Carpenter Ants in our beloved park.

Meet the Carpenter Ant
by Alex Byrne

Odds are if you are walking down the sidewalk next to Van Cortlandt Park, or along a forest trail in the Park and see a caravan of large black ants, you have just been acquainted with one of the most functionally important groups of insects within the park; carpenter ants. Carpenter ants within the genus Camponotus consist of 1,489 species world wide, with the most Camponotus rich continents being South America and Australia (Bolton 2012). In New York City and across the world, carpenter ants form large colonies inside dying and dead standing trees, hollowed out branches, soil and even human dwellings and utilities where they can induce millions of dollars of damage in some situations (Ellison et al 2012). In urban forest ecosystems such as Van Cortlandt Park, carpenter ants are key players in the production and turnover of soil. Read more »

Mapping Ant Diversity Across Van Cortlandt Park

The Buggy Down Bronx:
Mapping Ant Diversity Across Van Cortlandt Park
by: Alex Byrne

Early experimental design for examining nutrient use in ant communities. This picture shows a preference for sugar which seems to be habitat dependent (cotton ball pictured on left is soaked in sugar, cotton ball on the right  is soaked in oil).

As the Jurassic faded into the Cretaceous, planet earth began to experience a revolution in sociality with the radiation of one of the most ecologically dominant groups of animals to date, the ants. By living communally in colonies that can number in the thousands of individuals in some species, it is thought that ants turnover more soil than earth worms, provide habitat for a number of organisms, cycle the majority of the forest floor organic material and are typically the first animals to arrive to newly arisen resources on the forest floor (Holldobler & Wilson 1999). For example it was recently shown that in the rain forests of Borneo ants were responsible for consuming 51 % of baits placed within the forest when considering both foraging insects and mammals (Griffiths et al 2017). In addition, the majority of ant mediated flow of nutrients is performed by only a hand full of dominant species (Houadria et al 2015). In forest ecosystems around the world this suggests that ants are keystone players that mediate a large part of the functionality of ecosystems and constitute often the majority of the animal biomass (Holldobler & Wilson 1999). Read more »