By Emma Dawson-Glass, Research Specialist
Beyond its curated collections, the Holden Arboretum also retains many natural areas. In fact, most of the Holden Arboretum property is made up of natural areas, with 3,000 acres out of a total of 3,600 acres of the Arboretum property being made up of natural areas. These natural areas are a vital resource to researchers and allows us to study a wide breadth of Northeast Ohio habitats. In these natural areas we study everything from community assembly, to responses to restoration and management, to the impacts of global change disturbances such as climate change, invasive species, acid rain, and novel diseases. Below, we highlight a few of the many natural area field sites that scientists in the Research Department use for study.
Working Woods is a post-agricultural forest (meaning it is a forest that grew back on abandoned agricultural land) on the arboretum campus. The Community Forestry and Conservation departments at the arboretum use various forest management techniques to push this young, less productive forest toward a composition that more closely resembles an old growth forest. The Stuble Community Ecology lab uses this area to study how these management techniques impact the forest community. They specifically look at topics such as how management impacts the composition of invasive versus native species, the recruitment of new species, light availability, and tree growth.
Upper Baldwin Working Woods Extension
Like Working Woods, Upper Baldwin is a forest that has experienced disturbance and regrowth after agricultural abandonment. Upper Baldwin is managed in the same way as Working Woods, at a much larger scale (over 120 acres managed total). The Stuble lab similarly monitors this system to explore how management impacts the forest community.
Bole Woods is an old-growth beech-maple forest near the arboretum main campus. The Stuble Community Ecology lab uses this forest to study the phenology (i.e., the timing of different life stages) of spring ephemerals and the forest canopy. Because plant phenology is closely tied to climate, this project informs how plant communities are responding to climate change. The Burke Plant and Soil Ecology lab and Medeiros Plant Physiology lab also collaborate here to explore the importance and potential interactive effects of acid deposition (such as acid rain) and deer herbivory.
Stebbins Gulch is an iconic, old-growth beech-maple forest on the Holden property. Only accessible to the public a few times a year, this forest boasts magnificent, hundred-year-old trees and unique geological formations. The Buke Plant and Soil lab have been monitoring plots in Stebbins for over 15 years, allowing them to collect long-term data on variation in the plant and soil fungi community. Combined with long-term weather and soil moisture data, this project can inform how the plant and fungi community is responding to climate change.
Pierson Creek Valley
Pierson Creek Valley is another old-growth forest on the Holden property. This forest, along with Schoop Forest and Case Western Reserve’s Squire Vallevue Farm, is used by the Burke Plant and Soil lab to explore the impacts of acid deposition on the plant and soil community and soil nutrients. Specifically, this group manipulates pH and phosphorus availability to “reverse” the effects of acid deposition, and explore how these changes impact communities, relative to untreated, acidified areas.
A rarer ecosystem in this area, Brainard Fen is managed by the Conservation Department at Holden. The Ryan Rhododendron Collections and Breeding lab uses this area to collect Lady Slipper Orchids. They are currently testing whether these orchids can be grown in a greenhouse setting, with the goal of eventually building an orchid collection to conserve orchid populations at Holden. Photo of the Lady Slipper Orchids courtesy of Horticulturist Dawn Gerlica.