Spotlight on Research: Biology Team to Survey Plants in Prince William Forest Park

Posted: December 9, 2002 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Lynn Burke

Next April, Ted Bradley, associate professor of biology and curator of George Mason University’s herbarium, will begin the field work of a survey of plants in Prince William Forest Park, located 32 miles south of Washington, D.C., in Triangle, Va. He will be joined by John Dodge, an alumnus of the university’s Biology master’s program. The two-year survey of the 29-square-mile park is being funded by the National Park Service’s Inventory and Monitoring Program.

Photo of Ted Bradley

Ted Bradley

“All federal lands are being surveyed for their flora and fauna,” says Bradley. “Eventually, these inventories will enable administrators to decide policy for parks, military bases, and other federal lands.” The presence of threatened or endangered plants or animals or unusual ecosystems will prompt administrators to modify those policies and determine whether the assemblage of flora and fauna should be left intact for public education and recreation, he adds.

According to the National Park Service, Prince William Forest Park is one of the few remaining Piedmont forest ecosystems, and because it straddles southern and northern climate zones, its combination of habitats and species is unusual and diverse. The survey will not only provide a thorough census of species currently in the park, but will also give future researchers a basis for comparison down the road.

Dodge believes the Park Service is fortunate to have Bradley on the project. “Dr. Bradley is one of the leading field botanists in the state of Virginia,” says Dodge. “He is one of a group of eight field botanists who have published the third edition of the Atlas of Virginia Flora, the significant reference as to what plants grow where in Virginia.”

Before field work begins, the team will determine the location of the park’s different habitats, such as upland forests, flood-plain forests, ponds, and clearings. The team will then identify at least eight search areas that represent different habitats and areas of high plant diversity.

“The survey will take place over two growing seasons–spring through fall,” says Dodge. “The continuum of plants coming out at different times, presenting flowers in spring and fruit in fall, will help us identify species.” Bradley and Dodge may be assisted in their field work by Biology graduate or undergraduate students.

The investigators will log plant species on a field data sheet, noting the plants’ global positioning system (GPS) location. Specimens will be collected only for those plants whose presence in the park or identification might be unusual. They will be logged in the field, pressed in newsprint and dried, identified, entered into the survey database, and stored temporarily in George Mason’s herbarium. For rare and endangered plants, the team will mark their presence by clippings, photographs, or written records, and will submit a Rare Species Sighting Form to the Virginia Division of Natural Heritage.

Along with a final report due on Dec. 30, 2004, the project is expected to yield a database containing each plant species found in and outside each search area, the date it was found, and any concomitant information. Maps noting the plant locations using a GPS receiver will also be produced.

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