Eighty years is a mere flash on the evolutionary timescale, but the science of studying nature has changed dramatically over these decades. In the early days of the field station, natural science was focused on academic scientists and self-taught naturalists observing the natural world—assessing what species lived in an area and what patterns and relationships could be seen. Later, some of those same people and others after them began to realize the impact of humans on species and systems. Much work began to focus on solving, or at least understanding, a problem: biodiversity loss, invasive species, and climate change, for example. As technology advanced, still other researchers became fascinated by questions about nature that could only be answered in the lab, exploring, for example, the molecular basis for a behavior or the disease ecology of a pathogen. These trends in research have impacted the type of projects undertaken here and even the atmosphere of our field seasons.
No matter the era, being in nature observing and recording still leads to new discoveries. Some of the world’s problems will be solved only through close study of the natural world and understanding impacts over time. Long-lived field stations like ours are invaluable.
We know, too, that people are more likely to care about environmental protection if they connect with the land and water. The public hikes our trails and boats on our lake. Children explore nature and ask questions in our education programs. The Huyck Preserve is unusual in many ways, not the least because of our four-pronged mission, through which we connect our long history of scientific research to conservation, education, and recreation.
—Anne Rhoads, Ph.D., Executive Director
Sharing the Beauty
The Huyck Preserve was incorporated in 1931, bequeathed as a natural sanctuary in the will of its founder, Edmund Niles Huyck. His was an enduring love and wish to support as well as share the town of Rensselaerville, New York, and its wild, natural beauty just 25 miles southwest of the state’s capital, Albany. The family’s 470-acre parcel served as the kernel of today’s 2,000-plus acres, and a shining example of setting aside such lands for the enjoyment of the public in perpetuity.
BIRDS AND MAMMALS
By September 1938, when the Huyck Preserve approved the establishment of its field station, an ecological consciousness was already developing in the United States. The Dust Bowl of the 1930s—resulting from poor agricultural practices in the Midwest coupled with severe drought— spurred President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s many soil conservation, erosion prevention and other environmentally restorative projects via the Civilian Conservation Corps. World War II deeply challenged the United States, including the 53 American field stations in existence by 1945—but did not diminish their growing importance as stable repositories of natural knowledge. The first decade of the Huyck Preserve’s field station, which began inviting and supporting researchers in 1939, was filled with enthusiasm and discovery.
As a graduate student, Griffin strings piano wires in the loft of today’s field station (then an old barn) to study the sensory biophysics of bats. He is the first to confirm that bats navigate by echolocation, and in fact, coined the term. Griffin goes on to hold prestigious positions, first as a professor at Cornell, then Harvard, and eventually finishing his career at the Rockefeller University in New York City. He is considered the founder of the modern field of study of animal thinking and consciousness.
The first scientist at the Huyck Preserve to study food chains in Lincoln Pond and Lake Myosotis, Raney develops a deep understanding of aquatic environmental problems. While at the Preserve, he also invents a new method for tagging frogs so he can mark, release and recapture them as he records their life histories.
While chickadees and their behavior were his initial interest at the Preserve, Odum soon directs his energy to a vegetation survey—what turns into an inventory of the Huyck Preserve’s plants and an accompanying habitat map. It also turns Odum toward his life’s work: understanding nature in terms of plant-animal systems.
Already a prominent ornithologist, as well as Eugene Odum’s mentor, Kendeigh gathers data on the nesting and breeding behaviors of birds at the Huyck, and records body temperatures of mammals. He goes on to become a noted conservationist and co- founder of the Nature Conservancy.
Who was Edmund Niles Huyck?
Born in Rensselaerville in 1866, the eldest son of the village shopkeeper who went on to found a paper felt mill on Ten-Mile Creek, Edmund “Ted” Huyck spent a rich and memorable childhood here—a combination of the vibrancy of his family life, the educational opportunities he and his siblings were granted, and the seemingly limitless outdoor opportunities of the Helderberg hills.
Huyck, who attended Williams College before joining his father at the family’s relocated paper felt mill near Albany in the 1880s, became a prominent businessman and leader in the New York State Capital region, and recognized nationally and internationally for his fair business practices.
Ever devoted to his childhood home, Huyck and his family returned to Rensselaerville each summer, where he continued his lifelong love of fishing, swimming, boating and picnicking, as well as the family’s tradition of inviting notable outsiders for their own and the town’s enrichment, and hosting friends and extended family at what is now known as the Huyck House, overlooking the Pond—the local nickname for Lake Myosotis.
Huyck was guided throughout his life by his natural inclination toward pairing social necessity with economic soundness. He was a successful businessman, pioneered a pension and benefit-plan system for his employees, was involved in civic affairs, and served the community as a trustee for Albany Medical College, Albany Hospital, and Union College. Edmund Huyck’s last act of generosity was to designate the land gift that was to become the Huyck Preserve. Science and the general public alike benefit from Edmund’s gift and his wife Jessie’s intention that this land be used “…to increase the general knowledge and love of nature, particularly that of trees and wildlife.”
Jessie Van Antwerp Huyck
Jessie established the Preserve just 14 months after her husband Edmund died in 1930. The next year she created the endowment that would carry the Preserve well into the 21st century. Soon after, she facilitated early research, education and conservation activities. Without her vision, good will and tireless effort to carry out her husband’s wish, the Huyck Preserve would not exist.
Edmund spent such considerable time in the rural wild lands in the Upper Hudson Valley—even as an adult—that he is thought to be the last person to have seen the now-extinct Passenger Pigeon in the wild, in 1907, somewhere in or near the Preserve.
Post-war prosperity and technological growth put televisions in nearly every American household, and earned Jacques Cousteau an Academy Award in 1956 for his ocean life documentary, The Silent World. Americans embraced new travel opportunities on jetliners even as air pollution became a known health risk, and our government established its first national regulations for air and water quality. While James Watson and Francis Crick’s 1953 discovery of the double-helix structure of human DNA laid the cornerstone for modern molecular biology, field biologists were just beginning to treat ecology as a discipline of its own. That same year, Eugene Odum, the Preserve’s first resident scientist, along with his brother, Howard, also a scientist, published Fundamentals of Ecology, the first textbook in ecology, and the only one in existence for nearly 10 years. The book explored, among other things, how one natural system can interact with another, and began the understanding and study of ecosystems in ecology. At the Huyck Preserve, scientists conduct ecological surveys of the flora and fauna. These surveys will be ever-more-meaningful in years to come as new researchers at the Preserve compare ongoing data with those gathered early on.
Initially, Bishop bases much of his writing on the Phalangida—also known as “daddy longlegs”—and the particular species of the Huyck Preserve. He then changes focus to a different organism, going on to become one of the foremost scholars on salamanders in the United States.
A young academic at the University of Rochester, Cooper discovers a new species of solitary emerald wasp (or cuckoo wasp) at the Huyck Preserve and names it Chrysis enhuycki in honor of E.N. Huyck. He heads labs at Rochester, Princeton and Dartmouth before his later years as professor and prolific insect collector at the University of California, Riverside.
As a research fellow, Muchmore contributes to the early surveys with “The Land Snails of the Edmund Niles Huyck Preserve,” before becoming a leading expert on pseudoscorpions. A decade from now, Muchmore joins ranks in discovering a new species at the Preserve, a pseudoscorpion, and names it accordingly—Syarinus enhuycki.
Age of Ecology
Eugene Odum wrote the book that served as the cornerstone of the burgeoning academic discipline of ecology. With it, he brought the study of relationships among living organisms, as well as their physiological characteristics and biochemical processes to the forefront. Fundamentals of Ecology (1953) flipped an older, natural history-driven notion of ecology on its head, and opened new ways of thinking about the natural world.
Odum was the first scientist-in-residence at the Preserve’s field station in 1939. From the beginning, his research was pioneering. “I wanted to get beyond taxonomy—descriptive ecology—into function, into the physiology of birds and how that related to the larger natural environment. How is everything working out there? What’s going on? What are the energy flows?” While Odum initially studied chickadees when he came to the Huyck Preserve, he soon added a survey of the Preserve’s organisms and habitats. To this day, scientists at the Preserve use Odum’s detailed maps and inventory from 1940.
Odum spent the 44 years after he left the Huyck Preserve at the University of Georgia, developing a curriculum in ecology, publishing research, communicating ecology themes widely to the public, and writing more books. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1970, received the Tyler Ecology Award in 1977 and shared the Craaford Prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (popularly known as “the Nobel Prize in Ecology”) in 1987.
The Huyck Preserve honors his commitment to education by dedicating our undergraduate summer internship program to his name. Among other leading scientists such as Rachel Carson, Barry Commoner and Paul Ehrlich, Eugene Odum and the field of modern science they shaped has been cited by historians as so influential that their time might well be called the “Age of Ecology.”
For his doctoral work, Odum invented a device, called the Cardio-vibrometer that he used to measure the heartbeat of small birds.
In addition to Vietnam war and civil rights protests, when Rachel Carson’s 1962 book, Silent Spring revealed the grave overuse and dangers of pesticides, particularly DDT, another social movement was born. Oil spills, lake fires, and other environmental disasters led to a push for increased preservation of America’s wilderness and natural landscapes. The federal government created air, water and endangered species legislation. Apollo 8’s first photograph of the Earth from space in 1968, called “Earthrise,” became an iconic image of the decade’s concern for the living world. Ecology continued growing as a scientific discipline that examined how animals interact with plants, and other animals, and shape the habitats in which they live. The living world as a dynamic system—what will eventually be known as an “ecosystem”—became an important concept.
The ecologist who goes on to found the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, N.Y., Likens researches the zooplankton and limnology of Lincoln Pond. He is the first scientist to establish links between the burning of fossil fuels and acid rain.
Axelrod, who later becomes a plant evolutionary expert at the University of California, Davis, studies the forests of the Huyck Preserve to help explain how differing tree species develop in different parts of the world based on soil, air and weather conditions.
Throughout this decade and the next, Dalgleish conducts much of his research at the Huyck Preserve, studying fossil records of land lice, and bird populations that harbor them. He comes to the Preserve as a Ph.D. summer fellow from Cornell in 1964, becomes the Preserve’s resident scientist soon thereafter, and serves as executive director from 1973 to 1982. He is also one of the founding members of the Organization of Biological Field Stations in the early 1960s.
What is a Biological Field Station?
You could say that a field station is a big outdoor laboratory. Field stations provide enduring places to observe nature and to study it. Biologists set up experiments in forests and swamps, streams and meadows. They study animals, insects, plants and the relationships among all of them. But a field station is much more than an outdoor laboratory.
The earliest American field stations date back to the late 19th century, and were places dedicated to nature study. Observation was the method and description was the product, whether of individual organisms, or of collections of living things. When American biologists started defining the connections and dependencies among plant and animal communities, the separate disciplines of botany and zoology found a shared space in ecology. Twentieth-century field stations, such as the one at the Huyck Preserve, became important places for scientists to pursue insights about nature and its inhabitants. Field stations of the 21st century maintain their importance to biologists who continue to track and understand the natural world, especially as climate shifts occur and invasive species affect habitats. Citizen science—research conducted with the assistance of non-scientists from local communities—have broadened the scope of data gathering at many field stations, including at the Huyck Preserve.
The Huyck Preserve’s field station consistently has been a place where field biologists start their careers, and where generations of scientists follow their mentors in order to explore their own research questions in ways that broaden and deepen scientific understanding.
The Eldridge Research Center
Eldridge is the Huyck Preserve field station’s main facility. Once a barn on a local farm purchased by E.N. Huyck and part of the original lands that formed the Preserve, the building today is the main stopping point on a visiting field biologist’s daily rounds. It contains a classroom, conference room, offices, a small kitchen, restrooms as well as wet and dry lab spaces, field equipment and equipment storage. Nearby are lodgings for up to 40 visitors including Ordway House, Bullfrog Camp, Birdhouse Cabin, and the adjacent Lincoln Pond Cottage.
Eldridge Research Center and adjacent Lincoln Pond are hubs for much public interaction, including Thursday night summer lectures and potluck dinner with visiting researchers, seasonal workshops and guided hikes, field trips and summer education programs. The Huyck Preserve has steadily added programs over the years that connect students and interested adults with field researchers and wildlife educators. Programs began as follows and remain ongoing through today: 1948 swimming lessons and nature study, 1956 guided hikes, 1983 Annual Science Symposium, 2000 Middle School Natural History Day program, 2010 Thursday night summer lectures, 2019 field-based learning for homeschool students.
The first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, set the tone for the decade and bolstered an enduring concern for the importance and vulnerability of nature. Americans’ awareness of how DDT threatened the Bald Eagle’s reproductive capacity, along with that of other bird species, led to the Endangered Species Act of 1973. The risks of toxic waste after Three Mile Island’s nuclear disaster in 1979, and the increasing dangerous byproducts of nuclear and other large-scale utilities and industry in the Unites States added momentum to the environmentalist call for government policies that would protect air, water and land. As the field of ecology turned its gaze on the interactions among different species occupying the same space at the same time, our scientific understanding of species in communities increased.
George Campbell Eickwort
Eickwort, who later becomes a distinguished entomologist at Cornell, confirms the biology of the European mason bee, based on work he carries out at the Preserve.
A Cornell biologist, Eisner studies the behavior of woolly alder aphids in relation to protector ants and imposter green lacewings, increasing his already formidable expertise in animal behavior, chemical ecology and evolution. By the 1980s, a camphor-like substance emitted from millipedes that Eisner and his colleagues studied in the Preserve and identified as polyzonimine, is synthesized in labs and added to the canon of novel chemical agents in arthropods.
American Museum of Natural History bee expert Rozen discovers a rare solitary bee species—Macropis nuda—at the Preserve because he knew that the bee loves the flower yellow loosestrife, which an entomology colleague told him grows in several sites at the Huyck.
Medical entomologist Magnarelli studies the behavior of mosquitoes at the Preserve, before going on to develop the first blood tests for Lyme disease as Connecticut’s State Entomologist and director of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station.
Edmund Brodie Jr. and Edmund Brodie III
Father and son researchers Edmund Brodie Jr. and Edmund Brodie III publish important research documenting predator and anti-predator behavior in amphibians and reptiles at the Preserve.
The Huyck Preserve is comprised of a variety of different types of land, with our aquatic areas including Lake Myosotis, Lincoln Pond and the Rensselaerville Falls among the most well-known. There is also old growth forest—with trees more than 200 years old—along with secondary forest. There are a variety of open lands, including old fields and natural meadows along with various types of wetlands. Each area is defined by certain characteristics, which the Preserve safeguards and monitors.
These various lands are home to a large number of organisms, many of which are studied here by researchers and students, as well as observed by nature-enthusiast visitors. As human development continues apace and often changes the inherent qualities of the natural world in the process, places like the Huyck Preserve where habitats remain less disturbed are ever more valuable, and critical to our understanding of species survival and the qualities of stable ecosystems.
Some organisms have more than one habitat. The Huyck Preserve has long been home to migratory birds including many water fowl, for example, which rely on consistent sanctuary and feeding opportunities as they make their way to summer and winter breeding and nesting sites. With human development fracturing more and more continuous habitats, the Huyck Preserve’s protected land is critical to the very survival of some species.
The marsh is among the most recent expansion of land holdings of the Preserve. At 74 acres, it was a combined donation from a local landowner in 2010 and transfer acquisition from the Open Space Institute in 2013. As a wetland habitat, Hennicke Marsh serves as a vital natural filter of water moving through it, a buffer against flooding and home to a large number of aquatic plants, as well as wetland-loving animals such as wading and fishing birds, frogs, turtles, snakes, and insects. Even some mammals like beaver may live in a marsh full time.
Lake Myosotis Watershed
The most recent expansion came in 2020 in the form of a 23-acre parcel donated by a generous Preserve member. The new property includes mixed hardwood forest, wet meadow, shrub wetland, planted red pine forest, and an open field, and supports a broad range of wildlife, including the American woodcock and Ruffed grouse along with many native plants and other animals.
BEHAVIOR & EVOLUTION
In the last decade before the Internet, and while portable media players, like Walkmans, and videocassette recorders were expanding our capacity to listen and watch on our own terms, international shock about the Bhopal, India chemical factory’s toxic gas leak tragedy in 1984 followed by the Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster in the Ukraine in 1986 deepen United States’ concern about human impacts on natural resources. A moratorium on commercial whaling in 1982 and a ban on importing ivory to the United States in 1989, bracketed the expansion of our willing accountability to species facing extinction due to human development and commercial exploitation. Field biologists deepened our understanding of the systems of ecology—the myriad ways that plants and animals use and depend on one another for survival, as they moved increasingly into greater experimental precision that led to insights about behavior and evolution in natural habitats.
Pursuing work on forest plant communities at the Preserve, Beatty examines microhabitats that are formed when trees tip over forming pits and mounds. She publishes new insights on microtopography and canopy species on spatial patterning of forest understory plants. She continues her documentation of the forest understory while moving up the academic ladder on the West Coast and eventually in the Northeast, and returns to the Preserve as scientist-in-residence and summer research fellow. She brings many students and young scientists, including some with National Science Foundation funding, to the Preserve in the coming decades.
Herbers spends much of the decade researching ant-colony behavior during summers at the Preserve, spurring an important, multigenerational study of Leptothorax behavior and evolution. Dozens of publications, with many female scientists at the lead, ensue.
Entomologist Wilcox studies subtle aspects of communication along with predator-prey behavior in insects. In a series of experiments on Lincoln Pond, Stimson finds that wave generation is a cue to mating rituals in water striders as they walk on water. He and his Masters’ student Peter Sherman study the economics of web building in spiders. Stimson is later featured on the PBS program “Scientific American Frontiers” for his expertise on jumping spiders.
Beginning a multi-decade study of hemlock forests as the American beech die out because of beech bark disease, Runkle regularly re-samples Eugene Odum’s original plots from the 1940s and publishes results showing the ecological changes wrought by this invasive disease, along with the resilience of other species.
Inventor of cloud seeding and a member of the Preserve’s board of directors, Schaefer arranges for a weather station to be on indefinite loan to the Preserve from SUNY Albany in 1984. In 1988, the National Science Foundation awarded a grant to provide funds for research equipment including two computer weather stations.
Engaging young people in learning activities that can bring them outside, working with nature in an ongoing way is one of the great benefits of field stations. Summer education programs at the Preserve are ideal for high school students looking to design and run their first research project, and for undergraduate students—our Odum interns—wanting to work under the guidance of established field biologists.
Michaela Fisher, now a graduate student in SUNY Albany’s Biodiversity, Conservation and Policy program and the Huyck Preserve’s membership and outreach coordinator, attended the two-week Wildlife Ecology Research program in 2012 as a high school junior. Her project with another student in the summer program focused on determining deer density in the Preserve. Fisher, who landed a job managing a gray fox study with a research team at her college in Wisconsin in her sophomore year, credits the Huyck Preserve experience. “I’m not sure I would have applied for the job in college if I hadn’t done field work in high school.”
Educational programs with research opportunities have been part of the Huyck Preserve’s mission for decades. They’ve set many students on the path toward research careers.
Younger students benefit from outdoor education at the Huyck Preserve, too. Summer programs like Nature Study for elementary school-aged students and the Ecological Explorations program for middle-schoolers develop students’ observation skills, critical thinking and collaboration, all while exploring nature and having fun! Huyck Preserve staff also coordinate school field trips and outdoor lesson plans throughout the spring and fall season that extend the classroom teaching of many area schools. Field-based learning for homeschooled students is a teacher-led program that builds ecological understanding for children, aged 5-12.
In 1968, 16-year-old Weininger who later becomes a prominent chemist during the rise of computational drug development in the 1980s, wants to understand the surface currents of Lake Myosotis. He and another high school summer student make tiny wooden rafts with masts topped by light bulbs that are photographed by a camera mounted to a 50-foot tower they built. Each night, they open the camera’s shutter. By morning the exposed film shows tracings of light as the rafts move south along the subsurface current from the marsh all the way to the dam.
Annual Scientific Symposium
The Huyck Preserve begins its Annual Scientific Symposium in 1983, as a way of featuring insights from current research fellows and cutting-edge research by invited speakers with the Huyck community. It also gives high school students from the Wildlife Ecology Research program and Odum interns an opportunity to present a poster highlighting their methods and early findings among scientific peers. This one-day gathering each late summer extends the scope of weekly informal gatherings among researchers and students in residence. Many community members who regularly attend our summer Thursday night lecture and potluck dinner at the Eldridge Research Center also look forward to the yearly event.
The economic prosperity and material excesses of the 1980s set the stage for a struggle between pursuit of corporate profits and ecological responsibility. The first war in Iraq—the first war ever to be widely televised in real time—stole some of the public’s attention on environmental concerns called out by scientists in the 1990 United Nations report on climate change warning that global temperatures might rise as much as 2 degrees Fahrenheit in 35 years, and recommending reducing carbon-monoxide emissions worldwide. The Kyoto Protocol followed in 1997. While wolves were successfully reintroduced in Yellowstone National Park beginning in 1995, by 1999 seven out of 10 scientists believed that the world was starting to experience the largest mass extinction of species in history. Human population growth and acceleration of deforestation and desertification contribute to this extreme loss of biological diversity.
Wyman, who serves as the executive director of the Huyck Preserve from 1986-2006, builds an extensive research program investigating dynamics of forest-floor food webs, nutrient cycling, and factors affecting the decline in salamander populations. His anthology, Global Climate Change and Life on Earth (1991) heralds the decade’s focus on global ecology.
Omland studies ducks at the Huyck Preserve, specifically what attracts the females to the males. His ornamentation studies— which seemed peculiar at the time—of attaching colored feathers to male Mallards leads to his renown as an expert on the molecular phylogeny and population genetics of birds.
Studying nest-building behavior in House Wrens leads Alworth to an important discovery that females, not males, perform the majority of the initial stages of nest-building. This upsets the longstanding dogma that this activity was attributed to males as evidence of their territory establishment and a marker of their physical robustness.
SUNY Albany professor Robinson begins, among other projects, a continuous forest inventory that is ongoing today, and involves studying phenology and carbon allocation of coniferous trees in response to longer growing seasons. In 2006, he establishes a new deer exclosure at the Preserve to assess browsing impact on hemlock stands. Eleven of Robinson’s 44 eventual graduate students base their research here, studying tree diseases, forest succession, stream water quality, and invasive species. He also chairs the Preserve’s Scientific Advisory Committee for 15 years as well as serves on the board and as Senior Research Fellow in 2014.
Edmund and Jessie Huyck knew the importance of protecting land and caring for it and its natural inhabitants.
Since the original 470 acres was set aside in 1931, the Huyck Preserve has not only protected that land, it has steadily expanded its holdings to more than 2,000 acres today. This growth has enhanced all the uses of the Preserve, with more hiking trails today than ever before, for example.
This acquisition and protection of land is also the basis of preserving much more habitat, the fundamental unit of biodiversity. Without habitat, our natural world would cease to exist as we know it, and would lead to catastrophic consequences, not just for the flora and fauna lost forever, but to humanity’s very ability to survive and sustain itself. At present, the earth is experiencing extinctions across species including land mammals, marine creatures, birds, amphibians, insects and plants, as well as conversion and destruction of forests and other ecosystems.
Protecting areas that allow the natural world to continue while providing a place to study species and systems—especially over a long period of time—is vitally important to our future and the future of the planet.
Invasive Species Monitoring
In 2019, the Huyck Preserve completes its first season of Invasive Species Monitoring and Management Plan fieldwork, with non-chemical control of more than a dozen non-native species of plants that threaten to outcompete native species. Climate-change effects play a role in accelerating the rate of non-native species invasion everywhere, and all Huyck Preserve lands will include invasive species management activities from now into the foreseeable future.
The Y2K fear that computer systems would shut down as the new year chimed in 2000 was not borne out. The terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001 shocked the United States and drew the country into ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The environment saw a tumultuous decade of gains and losses, based on policies that split mainly on political affiliation in the United States. NASA satellite images revealed the extensive shrinking of the world’s glaciers to warming temperatures and destruction of rain forests due to commercial forestry and ranching among other ongoing insults. Vice President Al Gore’s award-winning 2006 film, An Inconvenient Truth, educated the public about climate change, strengthening a global movement to avert climate crisis, and garnering Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. Field biologists had already turned their attention to how data and insights collected at the local scale can be used to preserve species and ecosystems globally. Weather stations expanded the data-collection capacity in ecological studies.
Susanne Foitzik and Sebastian Pohl
Foitzik and Pohl deepen our understanding of ant behavior in ongoing research begun by Joan Herbers in the 1980s at the Huyck Preserve. The two compare ant colonies here with colonies in Vermont, West Virginia and Ohio, showing differences in aggression and confirming annual timing of raids to domesticate acorn ants. Perhaps most important, Foitzik and mentor Herbers also discover that where the colonizing ants live, submissive populations are powerfully impacted. Acorn ants’ very survival is compromised.
A student of Foitzik, Achenbach reveals an interesting new defense in colonized ants: they rebel. Herbers and Foitzik credit the stable conditions and robust habitats at the Huyck Preserve with enabling them to glean so many insights about the ants’ co-evolutionary process.
A student of George Robinson, Pinder inventories species of earthworms at the Huyck Preserve and describes their distribution here. She determines that there are 12 species at the Preserve, all but one of which are invasive.
People come to the Huyck Preserve for many reasons: the beauty and experience of time spent outdoors, the exercise potential of hiking our many trails, and kayaking or canoeing in Lake Myosotis, the intellectual stimulation and camaraderie of attending a potluck supper followed by a scientific lecture on a summer Thursday night, or an outdoor event like a wildflower identification walk, or our annual winter festival. Some people even come to do science.
Our field station is a haven for field biologists of all kinds, visiting from many universities and colleges around the United States and internationally, as well as from wildlife agencies and research institutes. But there are also research endeavors involving everyday people, from local residents, to students from surrounding schools, to retired or semi-retired people from throughout the region to weekend naturalists. They come to participate in citizen science.
The term “citizen science” was coined in the 1990s to describe the practice of public participation and collaboration in scientific research. Of course, people have been participating in science for years, and many examples come from wildlife and the environment. To carry out citizen science work, the Huyck Preserve partners with other organizations such as the National Audubon Society, or the Ecological Monitoring and Management Alliance (EMMA)—which was founded by Teatown Lake Reservation in Ossining, NY, to collaboratively address regional ecological threats through a grant from the Land Trust Alliance in 2013—or government agencies like New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation. As citizen science continues to grow—worldwide—so too will the opportunities at the Huyck Preserve.
The blue tags attached to trees and shrubs since 2014 in a walking loop near the Lower Falls is a citizen science project in Phenology—the study of the timing of seasonal changes and life-cycle events in plants and animals. The project is a way to understand the impacts of climate change on seasonality in plants, as well as anticipate changes in timing of important stages of each plant that could affect neighboring or co-dependent species, like pollinators, for example. The data are submitted to the National Phenology Network.
Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count
The Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count is a well-known example of citizen science, in which an experienced birder leads a group of volunteers as they collect information about local populations of birds, creating a systematic broad survey across many locations. The Huyck Preserve hosted the Christmas Bird Count from 2011-2015, and plans to resume annual counts, especially in light of recent news of a crisis-level loss of birds in North America. The researchers’ findings that bird numbers have dropped by 2.9 billion, nearly one-third, rely heavily on citizen bird count records going back to 1970, including the Audubon Society’s.
Smartphones become the decade’s most important device, with 84 percent of Americans saying they couldn’t go a single day without one by 2015. The largest marine oil spill in history happens at Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, wreaking unparalleled havoc on marine and coastal ecosystems, as well as human health and regional economies. While some business leaders and politicians continue to dispute the reality of human-caused global warming as a factor in climate change, 90 percent of the public polled believes that climate change is real. Voter turnout spikes among young adults in 2018’s U.S. midterm elections, just months after 15-year-old Greta Thunberg of Sweden kicks off an international school climate strike movement. Activism about climate effects and the need to redress them draws in young people at ever-increasing proportions. Ecologists, too, turn greater attention to climate effects, noting changes in temperature and precipitation on the distribution, abundance and behavior of plant and animal populations. Invasive species and their management are increasingly on the agenda of ecologists and at field stations. Citizen science—research and data collection conducted by the general public—increases in ecology and field biology.
As the Huyck Preserve’s director of conservation, education and research and then executive director from 2011 to 2015, O’Neal studies Dark-eyed Juncos to determine what role immune function plays in their migratory behaviors and whether their migration patterns are changing due to climate effects on winter temperatures. She goes on to direct university partnership and science professional development programs at the Nature Conservancy.
Wildova is the first summer research fellow (SRF) in 2008–2009. As SRF, in addition to her mentorship role, she carries out her own research on invasive viburnum leaf beetles and invasive cattails. She returns in 2014 to continue her research, and in 2016–2017 with her colleague and husband, Jonathan Rosenthal, to conduct a comprehensive survey of the flora, habitats and forest health of the Huyck Preserve.
Lapenas of SUNY Albany, begins looking at how changes in annual snowfall and winter temperatures are impacting spruce trees in the Huyck Preserve. His department co-funds an upgraded weather station at the Preserve in 2019 that will directly help aid his ongoing research here, as well as that of many other scientists and students.
Carmen Greenwood, Roger Masse and Amy Quinn
A trio of researchers from SUNY Cobleskill—Greenwood, Masse and Quinn—survey the Huyck Preserve with their students in efforts to determine whether the endangered American burying beetle can be successfully reintroduced in New York.
University of Michigan researcher Burnham establishes permanent plots assessing the growth of vines as part of a global project to determine how the rising carbon dioxide level of earth’s atmosphere stimulates vine growth rates more than tree growth rates.
By 2021, it is likely to be official: we live in the geologic era known as the Anthropocene, or the period in which human activity became the dominating influence on the earth’s condition, including climate and the environment. The designation, when confirmed in an upcoming meeting of the International Commission on Stratigraphy, which oversees the geological time chart, will mark the beginning of this era somewhere in the middle of the 20th century.
In the United States alone, the year 2020 brought catastrophic wildfires on the West Coast, record-breaking numbers of hurricanes in the Southeast, the most costly thunderstorm disaster in our history in Iowa, along with the hottest day ever recorded in North America, 130°F, in Death Valley, California. The evidence is overwhelming. Humankind’s pumping of 2.6 million pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere per second is having civilization-altering effects.
For field biologists, climate change is a front-row seat on a world-sized, unplanned experiment. As temperatures shift—creating extreme precipitation conditions with more frequent droughts as well as severe storms, along with warmer winters and earlier springs—flora and fauna are forced to adapt. Unlike evolutionary adaptation which takes place slowly, climate adaptations will have to be more rapid because of the unprecedented speed with which climate change is occurring. Not all plants and animals and other biota will survive.
At the Huyck Preserve, most research projects include the role of human impacts; longer-term studies at the Preserve now include some aspect of community or ecosystem monitoring to understand the effects of shifting temperature and precipitation patterns. Education at the Preserve incorporates climate change, a critical component for understanding local ecosystems. Projected climate models are increasingly important in making predictions about the future of biodiversity on Earth.
BEYOND 80 YEARS
While trails remain open, the COVID-19 pandemic shutters much of the in-person programming of the Huyck Preserve in 2020, including postponing some summer research and slowing other projects. This is unfortunate since ongoing research depends on repeat observations, often during specific seasonal conditions. New research depends on access to the field. All field biology benefits from the communal activities and dialogue associated with any field station. While inconvenient for all researchers, students in particular—be they high schoolers in the Wildlife Education Research Program, undergraduate Odum interns, graduate and post- graduate research fellows—rely on timing to advance in their education and professional development. But there may be a silver lining. Worldwide stay-at-home orders cause a dip in pollution levels on top of slowing the virus. Due to news analysis of COVID-19’s causes, the public learns more about the complex networks of interactions—habitat fragmentation, migration patterns leading to new animal/human contact points, negative effects of biodiversity loss, for example—that contribute to unstable conditions that, in turn, can exacerbate disease outbreaks. The COVID-19 crisis sheds new light on climate change and its effects that may accelerate solutions. At the very least it reveals the fact that humans cannot be healthy unless the planet is healthy, too.