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Biology
Completed Project

Establishing a Reconciled Ecosystem in the Edith Roberts Ecological Laboratory

Joshua Bruce, Vassar College ’16, Sanne Jarvinen-Cosse, Vassar College ’16 and Prof. Margaret Ronsheim

In 1920, a four acre plot of land on the campus of Vassar College was secured by Prof. Edith Roberts to establish an outdoor laboratory for ecological study. From 1921 to 1923 the land now known as the Edith Roberts Ecological Laboratory (EREL) was manipulated to mirror in microcosm 30 naturally-occurring plant associations observed across Dutchess County, New York. This engineered and managed space provided an artificially diverse snapshot ecosystem used for both in vivo experimentation and public exposure. When management ceased, distinctions between associations collapsed and invasive species became dominant, decreasing biodiversity, habitat quality, and socio-spatial appeal. On-site engineering and increased development in the surrounding environment altered EREL to the point that returning to a state prior to human development became unfeasible. Restoration of this space has therefore focused on the establishment of a reconciled, stable ecosystem that maintains aesthetic and recreational value. Coexistence at high diversity and coevolution with native organisms make native plants a practical choice for generating stable ecosystems. Following the removal of invasive plant species, this project reestablished populations of 8 shrub and 10 perennial herbaceous species native to New York in the EREL. Additionally, measures for quantitatively analyzing ecosystem response to restoration treatments were established, as were guidelines for future project management and direction.