Third Year of Grassland Research Begins


Photo by Sean Sweeney

The closure of the Fresh Kills Landfill and the planting of native grasses atop the landfill cap has led to hundreds of acres of new grasslands. This offers the unusual chance to see a nascent ecosystem take shape, bringing its value as a specialized habitat with environmental benefits to the forefront. Understanding the new ecosystem at Freshkills Park will help ensure its sustainability and maintain this vital habitat. That’s why ongoing yearly research is focused on studying the grasslands and informing how the landscape is managed.

Plants often create the base for entire ecosystems. This means that healthy and diverse plant communities are vital for environments that provide benefits like flood control and air and water purification. With increases in factors like agriculture and urbanization, grasslands have drastically disappeared across the Northeast, and many plant and animal species that rely on the habitat are now threatened. For this reason, NYC Parks wants to ensure that the management practices at Freshkills Park benefit the plants and animals that rely on grasslands.


Photo by Sean Sweeney

Grassland research resumes as spring returns to Freshkills Park, when the rolling hills begin to revive and showcase the grasses that characterize the ecosystem. Some of the first species to send up fresh green leaves are the brome and fescue grasses, followed by switchgrass and blue stems. As these plants sprout, the researchers begin recording the changes that occur throughout the season and capture the different species that grow at different times of the year.

Now in its third year, ongoing grassland research at Freshkills Park studies the plants in terms of different growth timings, dispersion patterns and species compositions. Researchers also overlay that information with the presence of grassland birds. Once they have determined which habitat characteristics appeal most to grassland birds, and what plant composition is responsible for them, these characteristics can be encouraged throughout the park.

With this information, researchers hope to attain a more thorough understanding of the ecology in order to ensure vibrant, diverse ecosystems that support plants and wildlife at Freshkills Park. The site’s vast, healthy grasslands serve to highlight the intrinsic beauty and value of the grasses. They can act as a reminder to reflect on the quiet, underappreciated aspects of nature that surround and support us.

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