National Science Foundation to Support Oak Tree Research

National Science Foundation to Support Oak Tree Research

iMay 31, 2017

A major research project is underway seeking a better understanding of the ecological and cultural significance of the Genesee Oaks, and more broadly, changes in oak-dominated forests in the northeastern United States. Funded by the National Science Foundation, the three-year research project is a collaborative effort involving Dr. David Robertson (SUNY Geneseo and  Conservancy board member), Dr. Stephen Tulowiecki (SUNY Geneseo), and Dr. Chris Larsen (University at Buffalo).  Combining their skills in historical analysis, biogeography and tree-ring analysis, the three geographers and a team of student research assistants have begun piecing together the natural and cultural history of the valley’s oak forests and landmark oak trees. The researchers are paying particular attention to the complex interplay of both environmental conditions and Native American and later land use in shaping the structure of local forests and the composition of tree species.

Robertson has been studying the Genesee Oaks for several years. His historical research utilizes first-hand accounts of the valley landscape dating from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. This research suggests that the area’s landmark oaks may be remnants of a Seneca-maintained oak ‘savanna’ preserved through two centuries of local land conservation, which now includes substantial protection of oak lands through the Conservancy.  The research team is now testing this hypothesis.  This research will incorporate rigorous spatial analysis of species distributions (the mapping of tree types past and present), as well as tree-ring data.  In addition, Robertson, Tulowiecki, and Larsen believe that what they will learn about the area’s oak forests will have application beyond the Genesee Valley.  The project’s findings, for example, will inform debates in forest ecology and biogeography over the relative weight of environmental and human factors in the decline of oak forest communities in North America.  In addition, by assessing the drivers of oak forest change, the project will produce knowledge transferable to northeastern forests that are managed to meet both ecological values and societal needs.

The researchers are grateful for the cooperation they have already received from the community, local landowners, and from the Conservancy in support of this important project. They encourage anyone who is interested in learning more about the research, or in becoming directly involved, to contact Dave at robertsd@geneseo.edu. The researchers are particularly interested in opportunities to survey forests, salvage wood samples from fallen trees or large branches, or extract tree-ring samples from living trees using a small increment borer.