Changes in Plant Species Composition in the Edith Robert's Ecological Laboratory

Arial Shogren,Vassar College '13, Emily Haeuser, Vassar College '10, Keri Van Camp, Field Station and Ecological Preserve Manager and Profs. Margaret Ronsheim and Lynn Christenson

Dr. Edith A. Roberts, a professor of Plant Science at Vassar from 1919-1949, began the Ecological Laboratory as a representative botanical garden for Dutchess County. After surveying the vegetation of the county in 1920-1922, she worked with her students to plant the ferns, herbaceous plants, shrubs, and tree species that represented the diversity of the plant communities of the county, including native and non-native species. It was planted on 4 acres of land along the Fontynkill Creek, and included 11 different plant associations. This summer we investigated the changes that have occurred in the Ecological Laboratory over the last 80 years by comparing her original species listtothespecieslistwecreatedthissummer. Only6oftheoriginal11plant associations remain due to road and building construction, invasive species, and changes in the hydrology of Fontynkill creek. We analyzed the changes in species composition of the remaining associations and examined the change in native and non-native plant composition. We also looked at the current soil seed bank to examine the potential future trajectory of the vegetation in Edith Robert's Ecological Laboratory. Overall we found that the species richness has declined from 600 species originally to approximately 135; of the species that remain, many are non-native. We have lost much of the original fern, herbaceous, and shrub understory composition, while many non-native shrubs and vines have invaded.