Research

The Center for Resilient Landscapes is designed to be a collaborative research and learning community providing the opportunity for students, faculty, and scientists to work together on important issues of environmental sustainability.  The Center will facilitate communication and collaboration so that these groups can match talent with need and complement each other’s research capacity to produce new work.

The following are examples of projects underway in partnership with the Center for Resilient Landscapes and the Rutgers Urban Forestry Program:

 

Center for Resilient Landscapes Post-Doctoral Research

 

Dr. Nazia Arbab is working as a post-doctoral associate in the Center for Resilient Landscapes. Dr. Arbab holds an M.S. in Applied Sociology from the University of Texas at Dallas and a Ph.D. in Natural Resource Economics from West Virginia University. She completed her dissertation in December 2014, titled "Application of a Spatially Explicit, Agent-Based Land Use Conversion Model to Assess Water Quality Outcomes under Buffer Policies."

She is developing an applied socio-ecological simulation model of governance and ecological processes to address current and future challenges in forest resilience in the face of changing human development and climate regimes. She works with faculty and scientists from both organizations to develop a line of research focused on the study of disturbance regimes prevalent in New Jersey and the surrounding region, which include: fire in the wildland-urban interface (WUI), extreme storm events, developmental pressures, pests and invasive species, and changing economies and markets. She also works with project leaders to develop an institutionally-blended, cross-disciplinary team broadly bounded by forest resilience and management practice across the WUI and within the developed and developing landscapes in the urbanized coastal regions of the United States.

The research and collaborative team is expected to have a regional focus and will develop programmatic linkages throughout (but not limited to) the Silas Little Experimental Forest; the USDA-FS Urban Field Station network; the Rutgers campuses in New Brunswick, Newark and Camden; and other regional university programs.

Dr. Arbab presented preliminary findings of her current research project at the International Society for Ecological Modelling Global Conference 2016 in Baltimore, MD, USA. The abstract and modified presentation are linked below:

Impacts and Occurrence of Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) in New Jersey:

Abstract

Presentation

This research was further updated at the Center for Resilient Landscapes Fall Symposium on October 6, 2016.

Abstract(pdf)

Presentation(pdf)

Dr. Arbab has also published an article using the spatially explicit agent-based modeling method in the Journal of Applied Spatial Analysis and Policy. The article is linked below.

Projections of Watershed Pollutant Loads Using a Spatially Explicit, Agent-Based Land Use Conversion Model: A Case Study of Berkeley County, West Virginia

 

Dr. Nazia N. Arbab receives Professional Enhancement Award at National Modeling Symposium(pdf)
Dr. Nazia N. Arbab won a competitive Professional Enhancement Award at the Agent-Based Model (ABM) 17 Symposium, sponsored by The Complex Human-Environment Systems Group and the Department of Geography at San Diego State University. Dr. Arbab was recognized for her ABM-related work, experience, and knowledge about the application, use and challenges of ABM research. 
Dr. Arbab also presented a poster, titled “Impacts of Land Use Conversions on Bird Biodiversity near Protected Areas in New Jersey(pdf)”, in the ABM 17 symposium. The poster reported the use of a computer model to estimate the impacts of changes in land use on the populations of different types of passerine (perching) birds in Morris County, NJ. The study focused on three types of landscapes – urban, agricultural/grasslands, forests. The model showed that large passerine populations would be especially vulnerable to the conversion of forest to residential land, as opposed to other land-use changes, likely because of the resulting fragmentation in the landscape. Dr. Arbab’s Rutgers co-authors include Jeffery Brown (graduate student, Ecology and Evolution), Katherine Fenn (graduate student, Geography) and Julie Lockwood (professor, DEENR).

 

 

Center for Resilient Landscapes Fellowships 2017

 

The Center for Resilient Landscapes is happy to announce that three Fellows were selected for 2017 and have begun work on their projects, as described below.

 

Calculating factors leading to return visits to public parks using the Kids in Parks TRACK Trails initiative dataset
USDA Forest Service - Philadelphia Field Station

Fellow: Daniel Clark, PhD Student, Ecology and Evolution
Advising: Michelle Kondo, Geoffrey Donovan, and Rebecca Jordan (Rutgers)

Kids in Parks is a nonprofit organization that formed in 2008 with the goal of improving the health of children and the health of public parks by making existing trails more attractive and fun for novice users. While there are many parks, trails and outdoor areas already accessible to both urban and rural families, hiking and other outdoor activities are often perceived to be too difficult, potentially dangerous or unexciting to newcomers. Kids in Parks seeks to get beginners outside using a network of outdoor adventures, called TRACK Trails. Each TRACK Trail features self-guided brochures and signs designed to make the experience more educational, enjoyable and fun.
TRACK Trails are established through partnerships with municipal, state, federal (including national forests), and other partners. The group’s early work created a network of trails and partners in the communities on and along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Partners include the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, National Park Service and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina. TRACK Trails now exist in California, District of Columbia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
TRACK Trails also offers incentives, and online activities, which participants can claim by registering each of their TRACK Trails experiences. Kids in Parks now manages a database of TRACK Trails participants – participant information including home location, and TRACK Trail code, for each of their hikes. Analysis of these data could allow us to answer questions that could assist design and marketing of future TRACK Trails, and to understand the impact of this program. These questions include, for example:

  • What is the frequency of return trips (to the same park, or to different parks)?
  • What are the characteristics of first-visit parks compared to second-visit etc. parks?
  • Which parks lead to the most second-visits (to other parks; ie “gateway parks”)?
  • What are the predictors of return and second visits? (e.g. residential demographics, family characteristics, individual characteristics (sex, age), park characteristics, distance)

Dan will help to build a complete database to support analyses to answer these questions. Tasks will include conducting spatial analyses to assess proximity (e.g. between participants’ homes and TRACK trails, or to other parks), gathering data such as weather/climate data for each TRACK trail visit, and attributes of each park or trail such as topography.

 

Developing a Soil Quality Index for Legacy Soils in the Urban Context
USDA Forest Service – NYC Urban Field Station

Fellow: Nicole Cohen, Bachelor's Student, Landscape Architecture
Advising: Frank Gallagher (Rutgers), Rich Hallett, Allyson Salisbury (Rutgers)

Novel assemblages often referred to as “urban wildlands” appear to function and be resilient in spite of the environmental stressors associated with legacy soils from past industrial activities. They developed unique patterns of species diversity/distribution; models of primary productivity (Gallagher et.al. 2008ab, Dahle et. al. 2014); and carbon sequestration (Renninger, et. al. 2012) that are driven by threshold tolerances, as well as develop along nontraditional guild trajectories (Gallagher. 2011). In addition, the ecological risk associated with uptake and transfer of various contaminants appears not to follow traditional biomagnification scenarios (Gallagher et al., 2008a; Qian et al., in review). Within these domains this project seeks to address current knowledge gaps through the characterization and comparison of soils within two well-known urban brown fields.
In 1995 under contract with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), the United States Army Corps of Engineers collected and analyzed soil samples for the 125 priority pollutants (NJDEP 1995), from the abandon rail yard within Liberty State Park (LSP). One composite sample was collected by split spoon from the A and C1 horizons from 98 sampling points. Soil metals were analyzed using graphite furnace atomic absorption spectrometry (GFAA). A second soil metal data set was collected in 2005 by NJDEP in 32 of the plots from the 1995 study. Three samples were collected at each plot with a soil borer at a depth of 10 to 25 cm (C1 horizon), the depth of greatest root density (Gallagher et al. 2008a). Sixteen additional sites were used to further define areas of unusually high metal concentrations. A total metal load (TML) index was calculated for each study plot in the site (Gallagher et al. 2008b). TML is a rank-sum index based on total soil metal concentration. These data were then kriged to develop a TML map for the entire site. Seven of the sites sampled in 2005, those with established early successional hardwood forest assemblages, were again sampled in 2014/15 to assess changes over the past decade (Salisbury et al., 2017).
These data appear to indicate that the soil’s total metal load exerts a threshold effect on the plant assemblages. Above a certain level productivity and diversity diminish significantly (Gallagher, et. al. 2008) Such findings raise the question, are plant assemblage responses to anthropogenic soils site specific or can common trends be identified through the use of a standard metric of soil conditions? 
Freshkills Park (FP) in Staten Island, New York offers a prime opportunity to explore such questions within the same geographic region however having a different industrial history. Fifty-three soil samples were collected in Summer 2014 from randomly selected spots across the site from a sample depth of 0-10 cm. Plant available elements were estimated using a 1.25 M ammonium acetate solution and a mechanical vacuum extractor. A preliminary TML was also created for the site.
A comparison of soil metal concentration at both the single element and aggregated levels would yield insight into the commonalities and/or differences associated with metal induced abiotic stress within postindustrial landscapes.   However, since samples were measured using different analytical procedures, comparisons of the data in current forms are challenging. Research at LSP (Salisbury et. al., 2017) has demonstrated that such differences can be overcome. The objective of this project is therefor to develop a soil metric similar to the TML approach used at LSP but more generic in order facilitate comparison between multiple sites. The index could be developed as an original model or be modified from an existing index developed for other applications, such as the FIA Soil Quality Index (USDA, Forest Service, 2001).
Nicole will collect additional soil samples as needed, re-analyze soil samples so that analytical methods match between LSP and FP, then develop and apply a new soil index method using the LSP and FP soil data. This index will be used in future research to compare the relationships between plant community structure and function at multiple sites. Understanding these relationships will help set management expectations for establishing and maintaining plant assemblages on post-industrial sites.  

 

Independent Idea - Coastal Resilience
USDA Forest Service - NYC Urban Field Station and Philadelphia Field Station 

Fellow: Amy S. Gage, PhD Student, Ecology and Evolution
Advising: US Forest Service

If a potential candidate has a research idea that they would like to propose as a potential CRL Fellowship Project, the idea can be submitted for consideration under this project title.  The project must be appropriate to the mission of the Center for Resilient Landscapes, and must be reasonable in scope to correspond with the available funding. The project must address some aspect of landscape resilience with implications for both New Jersey and the Northeast Region or beyond in the management and stewardship of environmental resources, social connection to such resources or ecological function in changing environments, or disturbances.  

Amy will be working with Forest Service scientists from the Philadelphia and NYC field stations to search for coastal ecotypes of Prunus serotina and Parthenocissus quinquefolia with the hope that these ecotypes will have applications in backdune stabilization and coastal resilience. She will conduct her research along the seashores of New Jersey and Long Island, NY.

 

Center for Resilient Landscapes Fellowships 2016

 

The Center for Resilient Landscapes hosted its' second annual Fall Symposium on October 6th, 2016 to showcase the Fellowship projects sponsored by the CRL.

Project abstracts and presentations for each of the 2015 and 2016 Fellows are listed below.

 

Land Use Histories of Forest Fragments in an Urbanized Region

USDA Forest Service - Philadelphia Field Station

Advising: Co-advised by Lara Roman & Vince D’Amico

Kari Williams

Abstract: Small, fragmented forest environments are common in between the dense human settlements of urban regions, including much of the Eastern United States. The FRAME (Forest Fragments in Managed Ecosystems) is a long-term research program to study urban forest fragments through 38 established sites in the Philadelphia Metropolitan Area. These sites, though all urban deciduous forests within one region, are widely heterogeneous. The diversity of each site can be documented through careful study of the existing conditions, but it can only be understood by looking to the past. In the roughly 350 years since Europeans settled in the Delaware Valley, land uses have changed with economy, technology and population growth. Working with the hypothesis that historic events leave an ecological legacy, this project assembles the historic land uses of the FRAME sites. The detailed archival research will allow for analysis to link ecological trends and anomalies to historic contexts, providing a richer insight into each forest fragment.

Presentation

 

Before the Fall: Monitoring the Ash Groves of the Philadelphia Urban Forest Before the Emerald Ash Borer Kills the Canopy

USDA Forest Service - Philadelphia Field Station

Advising: Co-advised by Sarah Low, Jason Henning, and Lara Roman in collaboration with Philadelphia Parks & Recreation staff (Joan Blaustein and Curtis Young).

Natalie Howe

Abstract: I will describe the beginning of a long term research project on how the Philadelphia urban forests respond to the outbreaks of the invasive insect, the emerald ash borer (EAB). EAB was documented in Philadelphia in the spring of 2016, and is expected to cause 99% mortality of ash trees in forests it invades. The effects of the EAB on the urban forest are expected to be important since ash constitutes 25% of the urban forest canopy in Philadelphia.
This long term study will document vegetation composition and structure before, during, and after EAB attack, allowing us to investigate how multiple factors (soil moisture, distance from infrastructure, and forest management) interact to influence the forest community recovery after the loss of ash trees. Philadelphia Parks and Recreation has been treating some trees across the city with insecticide to preserve them in the face of the EAB invasion. This study, which represents the first year of this long term study, measured vegetation in the canopy, understory, and in the herbaceous layer near treated trees that will survive the invasion and near untreated ash trees that will die. The study therefore documents effects that the death of ash trees is having on the urban forest vegetation.
The results of the first field season demonstrate that the ash groves of the three watershed parks of Philadelphia (Cobbs Creek, the Wissahickon, and the Pennypack) have distinct initial conditions in terms of understory vegetation communities and in terms of potential canopy in a post-ash forest.

Presentation

 

Exploration of FARO Freestyle 3D Laser Scanners as a Method for Estimating Understory Fuel Loading for Wildland Fire Management

USDA Forest Service - Silas Little Experimental Forest

Advising:   Michael Gallagher, Dr. Ken Clark, and Dr. Nicholas Skowronski of the USFS, and may require a small amount of additional coordination with external collaborators at University of Edinburgh, West Virginia University, and/or Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

Joe Rua

Abstract:  In recent years, wildfires in the United States have been burning with greater frequency and intensity. This trend is only expected to accelerate with changes in global climate. While wildfires play important roles as disturbance regimes and forest health, they can also threaten both structures and human life – especially in the wildland urban interface (WUI). Estimating forest fuel loading is crucial for estimating wildfire risk, ongoing fire behavior model development, and evaluating treatment effectiveness. Fuel loading is a key factor that regulates fire intensity, as well as rate of spread, during wildfires, and many simulation models of fire behavior require estimates of fuel loading. Further, it is the only factor in fire behavior that fuels managers can influence, yet has high temporal and spatial variability, especially in regions with frequent fires or other disturbances. The current destructive harvest methods used are time consuming and are not, by definition, “repeatable” (as the plot has been harvested to be dried and measured). As it is vitally important to be able to rapidly and accurately assess fuel loading in with a high spatial resolution, I have endeavored to investigate an alternative and technologically sophisticated approach.
While air-born and terrestrial LiDAR has been demonstrated as a useful means of quantifying forest canopy fuels, newer hand held scanning units have since become available, but have not yet been used on forest fuels. One such unit is the FARO Freestyle 3D laser scanner. The purpose of this study is to determine the effectiveness and utility of using a Faro Freestyle 3D hand laser scanner to measure the surface fuel loading in a pine-oak forest. I performed three different tests in order to evaluate the potential for the Faro Freestyle 3D scanner’s use in measuring the fuel loading of surface fuels, which are those fuels that are within two meters above the ground surface. Current remote sensor methods have some difficulties in detecting the structure of a forest in the shrub layer in the first two meters because of noise from the canopy, and uncertainties in determining ground elevation. My work demonstrates that handheld LiDAR units can be used to successfully estimate the biomass of the shrub layer non-destructively in a forest by using Bayesian Regression to compare the amount of pixels scanned by the laser to the biomass of the harvested plots and detect any relationships between the data points. In combination with other LiDAR technologies to estimate canopy fuel loading, this research contributes to much better estimates of forest fuels.

Presentation

 

Ecological Restoration as a Catalyst for New Forms of Civic Engagement

USDA Forest Service - New York City Urban Field Station

Advising: Myla Aronson, Dept. of Ecology, Evolution and Natural Resources, Rutgers University; Erika Svendsen, Lindsay Campbell and Michelle Johnson, US Forest Service NYC Urban Field Station

Amanda Sorensen

Abstract: Environmental and ecological restoration projects are used widely as a means in which to reverse the degradation and damage done to an ecosystem by human activity (Jackson et al. 1995). While the effects on the ecosystem have been widely evaluated (Benayas et al. 2009), there has been little work done to investigate the social impact on the communities these projects take place in, particularly in urban communities. This project investigates the role of the communities in restoration, building upon a current ecological restoration maritime planting experiment in the Jamaica Bay region of New York City. Particularly, we were interested in the role of individual identity, perceptions of restored areas, and environmental identity on community motivations to contribute to restoration projects and valuation of the environment. We developed a 36 item questionnaire with scales of questions on environmental values, identity, views of community, views on restoration, and motivation to contribute to restoration projects. From our initial analysis we see the emergence of unique community or neighborhood identities that may influence individuals’ perceptions, support of, and desire to engage in ecological restoration programs. Additionally, the desire to preserve local biodiversity was not correlated with engagement in ecological restoration programs where as a desire to help and improve the local community was. These results suggest a potential need to reframe how scientists approach and discuss future restoration projects with community members to garner support for these types of programs. Planned follow-up interviews this fall aim to tease apart these findings and investigate the impact and role of framing in this restoration program. 

Presentation

 

Center for Resilient Landscapes Fellowships 2015

 

Forest Creation In The City: Testing An Anthropogenic Forest Succession Strategy

New York City Urban Field Station

Max Piana

Abstract: Recognizing the suite of ecosystem services from urban forest, cities around the world are embarking on efforts to increase green space within urban limits. Tree planting is one area of focus for these efforts. While increasingly common, the ecological understanding of urban afforestation sites is limited and needed to inform design and management strategies. In 2015 a long-term study of an afforestation strategy using urban adapted early successional tree species was integrated into a New York City Million Trees Planting Campaign within the Freshkills Park. The study asks: Can we use pioneer species such as willow and poplar as part of an anthropogenic forest succession program to achieve more rapid canopy closure on urban afforestation sites thereby reducing maintenance costs and allowing for a faster creation of a forest in the city? This presentation will review the design and installation of Freshkills Afforestation study and the series of experiments that have been initiated on the site that aim to describe the impact of different afforestation strategies on planting success, soil carbon, seed dispersal, and forest succession.

Presentation

 

Assisting in Analyzing and Improving the Accuracy of a Mid-Atlantic Hurricane Tree Damage Model

Philadelphia Urban Field Station and Newtown Square, PA
working with the Strategic Foresight and Rapid response Group

Matt Drews

Abstract: One of the major causes of prolonged power outages, ecological damage, and personal property loss from Middle-Atlantic Hurricanes is from tree fall due to high winds, and Hurricane Sandy in 2012 was no exception in New Jersey. This prompted the US Forest Service to attempt to develop a model aimed at predicting tree damage severity ahead of time before a hurricane makes landfall. Based off of NHC’s HURDAT2 model, the Hurricane Forestry model utilized ‘best track’ forecasts and other National Hurricane Center data to develop a wind map of NJ detailing where the strongest winds may lie, including New Jersey’s unique topographical influences on the wind field. The next step of the project was then to analyze the results of the model output using Hurricane Sandy as a test case and then to compare it to meteorological surface data gathered from the New Jersey Mesonet during Sandy. The resulting model output when compared to the Mesonet data was not unreasonable. After that, additional factors that may significantly contribute to the model’s accuracy were debated and explored for future incorporation into the model, such as forest type, soil type, soil moisture, tree density, topographical exposure, time since last major weather event, etc. (Credit to Jason Cole of the US Forest Service for the development of the model).

Presentation

Center for Resilient Landscapes Projects

 
Using Photosynthetic Capacity to understand the role of Urban Brownfields as a Carbon Sink (PDF)

This poster presents the results of a 2014 study of the photosynthetic activity of gray birch trees (Betula populifolia) growing on a brownfield contaminated with heavy metals in Jersey City, New Jersey. Contrary to initial hypotheses little difference was seen when comparing the photosynthetic efficiency – an indicator of stress – of trees growing in high metal load plots and low metal load plots. More surprisingly, the worst performing plot was a stand of birch growing on low metal load soil, suggesting other environmental conditions are influencing the growth of trees at this site. 

 

Evaluation of Satelite Imagery Based and Visual Estimation Methods for Quantifying Wildland Fire Severity in the New Jersey Pinelands (PDF)

Extreme fire behavior and increased fire occurrence related to climate change is a key concern for fire managers because of the impacts it can have on public safety and ecosystem services, especially at the wildland-urban interface.  This poster describes the ongoing work of Rutgers PhD. student and Forest Service employee Mike Gallagher, which is integrating fuels, meteorology, and remote sensing data from multiple Forest Service collaborations to map fire severity and better understand how it is influenced by weather and fuel loading in the New Jersey Pine Barrens.  Results of this work will enable fire managers in NJ to enhance effectiveness of treatments and their ability to anticipate catastrophic fire events.


Rutgers Center for Resilient Landscapes