Ecological Habitats (Communities) of Columbia County


Even driving through the County, it’s easy to tell that neither forests nor fields are uniform: the forests one finds in the floodplain of a broad creek are distinct from those on a Taconic summit; likewise, a dry, thin soiled field may sport the autumn auburn of Little Bluestem, while a low wet meadow may hold the deep green of ferns and sedges, punctuated by resplendent if invasive Purple Loosestrife. We have begun to try to tease apart these differences and describe the ecologies of these different natural communities. Our Living Land Project is intended to diversify and standardize our descriptions of such communities, although it will not go into the detail of some of our earlier work.

Farms:  Farms are really collections of communities, with varying levels of human influence. This page links to our work taking an overview of these communities. Just to keep things complicated, we have not only considered modern but also historic on-farm habitats. Actually, since the majority of our landscape was farms in the 1800s, understanding that historical landscape helps us understand where, in a most recent sense, our current landscape is coming from.

Ponds:  Ponds often provide on-farm sources of water for livestock and irrigation. More recently, they have become a central component of rural landscaping. Human-made ponds have blossomed in our county during recent decades. A few years ago, we studied nearly 100 open ponds around the County. These were almost entirely artificial ponds on farms or in back lawns. They had been tended to various degrees, and our questions revolved around the biodiversity consequences of different intensities of management.

Floodplain Forests: Floodplain forests occur on flatter areas along streams where regular flooding exerts a profound influence on the vegetation. Because these soils are frequently replenished by water-borne nutrients, they have long been the site of agriculture – from American Indians through modern-day corn growers. Our work explored the distribution and biodiversity of such forests in Columbia and, in collaboration with our colleagues at Hudsonia, Dutchess Counties.

Fields and Meadows:  These are usually the most typical cover types on farms. We have not tackled these communities in a single study, but have dabbled in them over the years. This link gets you to some of the results of that dabbling including our work on field plants and insects.