The Emerald Ash Borer (EAB), a bright metallic green invasive beetle, is poised to change the composition of forests in the Finger Lakes region. But in his independent study this semester, Parke Schweiter ’19 is gathering data to inform management plans for the Kashong Conservation Area and the surrounding region.
Under the guidance of Professor of Biology Beth Newell and in collaboration with the Town of Geneva, Schweiter is studying the progression of EAB infection and its impact on the forest understory at the nature preserve south of the HWS campus.
The EAB has been “a major issue not only in New York but throughout the eastern United States,” says Schweiter. “Our goal is to see what its implications are close to campus, how we can start to manage it, and what some of the effects are going to be on other aspects of the environment, specifically the understory and what types of species will start to take over.”
This study builds on research conducted last fall by Newell and Jonathan Spaan ’18, who set up 15 large plots across the Kashong Conservation Area to test hypotheses about the relative timing of noticeable infection of ash trees by the EAB. Spaan predicted that the EAB damage would appear first in plots closer to the road, with greater numbers of ash trees, and with larger ash trees, and preliminary observations made this fall support those hypotheses.
As the EAB kills adult ash trees, more light reaches plants growing beneath the canopy, which might seem beneficial to these typically shaded plants, but non-native invasive species may respond more quickly to the increased light and out-compete their native neighbors.
Schweiter hopes to get a sense of just what that competition will entail. In quadrats located in plots spread across the Kashong Conservation Area, he is documenting the current composition of native and nonnative woody plants (shrubs, vines, and tree seedlings and saplings) to assess how best to manage the understory.
Pesticides can be expensive and inconsistent in their effectiveness, he says, but a promising option could be “to thin the ash saplings and encourage other native species like maple to grow when the ash start to die.”
Regardless of the ultimate management plan, he hopes more people will take advantage of “the beauty and resource that is the Kashong Conservation Area, so that with these issues we have a strong group of people who want to preserve it.”