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Polina Mikhelzon MHC 200: Science and Technology Professor Dalton Biodiversity in Central Park: Life within an Urban

Metropolis A question worth seriously pondering about, Does Central Park work? can be approached from many different angles. One such angle is that of biological and ecological success. In other words, does Central Park efficiently nurture the flora and fauna that proliferate in it? In order to determine the answer to this question, various sources are obtained and analyzed: readings and studies conducted by scientists, speeches by park experts, personal field research, and outside articles. Central Park is a haven for thousands of plant species and hundreds of animal species that, if closely observed, are the product of both human hands and Mother Nature. An in-depth analysis of Central Parks life forms, the sustainability practices of the park, and the conditions of other urban parks allow us to see the undeniable achievement of Central Park in fostering a biologically diverse community. Since 400 years ago, Manhattan has been a land flourishing with biodiversity, defined as plants and animals and the ways that they interact with one another (Sanderson 138). However, Manhattan was not always a modern city populated by yellow taxicabs and skyscrapers. Instead, it was Mannahatta, an island covered by a variety of landscapes, including grasslands, marshlands, forests, and swamplands. Its forests contained over 70
Mannahatta vs. Manhattan (Sanderson)

species of trees, including maples, oaks, hickories, American Chestnuts, birches, sweet gums, and beeches, and its wetlands housed over 200 species of plants (Sanderson 27). It was home to over 230 species of birds, including cranes, widgeons, wild geese, swans, and also mammals that are now completely foreign to us, such as mountain lions, black bears, wolves, foxes, wild cats, beavers, river otters, and minks (Sanderson 36). Furthermore, the streams and rivers surrounding the island held over 80 different kinds of fish, including shad, herring, trout, and eel. Even whales, porpoises, and seals were commonly found by the harbor (Sanderson 10). After its transformation over the years, Manhattan was able to preserve some of these species and make space for others: We build shelters, we farm the land, we construct dams, we pave the parking lots, we erect skyscrapers; these structures destroy habitats for some species (e.g. Wolves, mountain lions, wood ducks) and create habitats for others (e.g. rats, coyotes, pigeons) (Sanderson 119). Evidently, Manhattans ecological roots guaranteed that even today in 2011, its land would contain an assortment of species. A number of experts on biodiversity in both Central Park and other environments have shed light on the rich diversity of life that exists in New York City. One of these experts, Felicity Arengo, the Associate Director of the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History, studies about the prosperity and decline of several species, including flamingos, sea turtles, and coral communities. Dr. Arengo and her colleagues aim to battle any threats to biological diversity by visiting specific areas and working with locals to properly approach their conservation needs and perform research. For instance, to address the widespread disappearance of bees around the world, a syndrome known as the Colony Collapse Syndrome, Felicity Arengo and her team engaged New Yorkers in research; they handed out plants to people interested in this study and those people, in turn, recorded the types of bees that

pollinated these plants. As a result, New Yorkers recorded 250 species of bees, an astounding amount in such an urban area, and discovered eleven new species of bees, including four from NYC. It appears that New York contains enough urban parks, like Central Park, and gardens to offer bees the nesting sites and floral diversity that they require. Dr. Arengo interestingly remarked that, chances are, anything you do in daily life has to do with biodiversity. Another expert and the author of Central Park in the Dark: More Mysteries of Urban Wildlife, Marie Winn is highly knowledgeable about the numerous animal species residing in Central Park. In her interview with New York Times in 2008, Marie Winn spoke about the presence of Baltimore orioles and more than 200 species of migrating songbirds in the beginning of May in Central Park. Even though a majority of these birds are heading elsewhere to breed all the warblers, the scarlet tanagers, the kinglets, for instance, Winn reminds us that some bird species end their journeys in Central Park to nest right in the middle of Manhattan, which includes the Baltimore orioles (Winn). She revealed a somewhat recent addition to the mammals in Central Park, the Virginia opossum, a marsupial. Winn states that there are five known bat species in Central Park (big brown bat, little brown bat, eastern red bat, northern long-eared bat, and silver-haired bat) and thirty-eight species of ants. She also mentioned the carp and goldfish that reside in the Duck Pond near Central Park South and Fifth Avenue. These fish have predators, such as the largemouth bass, even in this generally man-made park (Winn). This goes to show that Central Park, despite its location in the middle of an urban city, exhibits evidence of natural predator-prey relationships. A third expert, Ken Chaya, has seen it all when it comes to plant life in Central Park. The creator of Central Park Entire, The Definitive Illustrated Map, Ken Chaya has documented over 170 different kinds of trees and shrubs, drawing and positioning 19,630 trees in his map. In it, he

has even included over 200 illustrations that show every bridge, archway, tunnel, building, statue, monument, recreational area, and playground (Central Park Map). He praises Frederick Law Olmsted, the inventor of Central Park, for putting nature before ornamentation when designing the park. On a tour of Central Park with Ken Chaya, my seminar group and I learned about Central Parks copious tree species, as well as other notable biodiversity facts about the park. Ken Chaya mentioned that there are now about 21,000 trees (6 inches in diameter or greater) in Central Park, which is a smaller amount than before, but this is not necessarily bad; less trees means less trees crowding together and more water and nutrients available for each individual tree. He pointed out a variety of native trees, including a black cherry tree, the most prolific tree in Central Park, self-propagated by the
Map of Central Park, created by Ken Chaya (Central Park Map)

birds, and a swamp white oak, a 150 year-old original Olmsted tree.

Among the hybrid trees in the park, Chaya noted the London plane, one of the most common trees in the park, considered to be a rugged NY tree that has endured the citys air pollution, crowding, and compacted soil for years. He pointed out that you can stand in one place in Central Park and pick out 11 species of oak, something you cant do anywhere else in the world. Chaya mentioned the significance of Central Park as one of the worlds most popular places to bird. It contains both a variety of food sources for birds, different levels of elevation to allow them to see better into trees, and a rest point on the Atlantic flyway, a highway that birds take going south in the winter and north in the spring. Chaya witnessed turtle-shells left behind in the den of coyotes, which were recently found roaming the park, yet another example of predatorprey activity in Central Park. Ken Chaya said Central Park is made by man but touched by

nature and effectively proved that you can have a nature experience even in an urban metropolis. A fourth park expert, Jack Caldwell is the Operations Manager at the Black Rock Forest Consortium, formed in 1989 in Black Rock Forest, a 4000-acre natural living laboratory for field-based scientific research and education (About the Forest). Caldwell gave our seminar group a tour of the Black Rock Forest in Cornwall, NY and provided us with examples of biodiversity in the forest, allowing us to compare Central Park to a less managed and less urban park. He informed us that all the trees in this forest are native and not planted by humans. He also spoke about Tamarack pond, the highest body of water in the forest, which collects a large amount of rainwater, causing the pH of the pond to be as low as 4.5-5. However, as the water runs downstream, the pH turns about 7, because trees absorb the acid from the water. Similarly, in Central Park, the roots of trees trap silt and contaminants (Harnik 60). Moreover, Black Rock Forest contains somewhat large predators like coyotes, black bears, foxes, and raccoons, resembling the predators roaming in Central Park. For a park that is only 165 years old, Central Park is shockingly similar to Black Rock Forest, a 14,000 year-old forest (About the Forest). During the field research conducted by four of my peers and me to study biodiversity in Central Park, we investigated the Eastern end of the park, specifically between 68th and 79th streets. We were able to identify eight tree species inside the park: American elm, pin oak, green hawthorn, London plane, swamp chestnut oak, littleleaf linden, Yoshino cherry, and
Black Rock Forest (About the Forest)

cucumber tree. All but the Yoshino cherry trees are native to North America. Most of these trees have proven to be resilient and thrive well in the park, because they produce either fruits or acorns that are easily dispersed by park animals and encourage further pollination of the trees. Despite being originally planted by humans, these trees, especially the pin oak and swamp chestnut oak, match the old-growth forests (Sanderson 154) that covered Manhattan hundreds of years ago. As for our search for wildlife in Central Park, we pinpointed ten species: grey squirrel, feral pigeon, European starling, American robin, American bumble bee, mourning dove, mallard, Western mosquitofish, blue dasher dragonfly, and song sparrow. Aside from the European starling, which is invasive and native to western Asia and Europe, all these species are not invasive and native to North America. It is important to note that most of the animals we found rely on the flora present in the park for food and survival. For instance, the song sparrow, the mourning dove, and the gray squirrel all thrive on fruits and seeds that fall from trees. The interdependence of flora and fauna is essential for the prosperity of both the plant and animal population of Central Park. A key event that really highlighted the rich biodiversity of Central Park was BioBlitz, a biological survey of a specific place carried out to count as many plant and animal species as possible in that area within a 24-hour period. It was conducted in 2003 by the Explorers Club and a collection of New York-based park, wildlife, and conservation organizations. It involved over 350 scientists exploring every inch of the park. At the end of the 24 hours, they counted 836 species, including 393 plants, 102 invertebrates, 78 moths, 46 birds, 14 fungi, 10 spiders, 9 dragonflies, 7 mammals, 3 turtles, 2 frogs, and 2 tardigrades (Roach). Tardigrades are microorganisms capable of living in extreme conditions, and had not even been discovered in Central Park until the BioBlitz. A spokesman for the Explorers Club, Jeff Stolzer, says the results

of this survey were just a snapshot of the species that actually reside in the park. Marine biologist Sylvia Earle even stated, "There are neon lights, Broadway shows, and traffic you wouldn't believe. Yet these creatures, given 800 acres of habitat, have managed to carve out a little green island in the midst of a lot of concrete (Roach). It is sensible to compare Central Park to other urban parks in North America, like the Golden Gate Park and Stanley Park, in order to assess Central Parks comparative success in biological diversity. In terms of flora, Central Park contains over 25,000 trees that comprise 152 species and thousands of species of flowers (Trees and Blooms). In terms of fauna, Central Park houses over several hundred species of birds but only a handful of mammals and reptiles. The decrease in the number of animal species is most
Golden Gate Park (US National Park Service)

attributed to the Human Footprint, the influence of

humans on ecology. The reformation of the land that once existed in Manhattan to construct Central Park has caused habitat destruction, biological fragmentation, and the introduction of new species (Sanderson 32). The Golden Gate Park, located in San Francisco, CA, consists of a variety of habitats, including grasslands, scrublands, wetlands, and dense forests. It is one of the largest urban parks in the world, 1,017 acres big, significantly larger than the 800 acres that make up Central Park. Although it contains less plant species than Central Park, Golden Gate Park is a refuge for an enormous amount of rare plants, specifically 38 rare or special status plant species. This significant plant diversity exists due to the parks location in the center of changing climatic zones (Nature and Science). As for animals, Golden Gate Park contains 250 species of birds, similar to that of Central Park, and an assortment of animals: 53 species of mammals, 250

species of birds, 20 species of reptiles, and 11 species of amphibians (Nature and Science). This large variety of animals is due to the larger size of Golden Gate Park and its diverse range of habitats, which result in more diverse ecological communities. Despite its smaller size and less varied ecosystems, Central Park is largely similar to Golden Gate Park in terms of biodiversity. Stanley Park, located in Vancouver, Canada, is the largest city park in Canada, 1,000 acres big, and also larger than Central Park but somewhat similar to it, if not lacking, in biodiversity. For one, Frederick Law Olmsted designed Stanley Park, too. Furthermore, it is much like Central Park, because it is a generally forested area, resulting in similar ecological communities to those in Central Park. It contains a total of 200 species of flowering and nonflowering plants, about 200 species of birds, and similar mammals, such as raccoons, black squirrels, coyotes and Canada Geese. For an urban park that takes up so much space, it is certainly unimpressive when compared to Central Park, which lies in the middle of an urban metropolis. We can, therefore, conclude that Central Park is, indeed, a better environment for biodiversity than Stanley Park. In order to further determine the extent of Central Parks biodiversity, it is imperative to consider what Central Park is doing to correctly sustain its plant and wildlife. Historically, urban parks have showed little to no concern for their ecological health. In the mid 1800s, the social goal of urban parks generally entailed public health, as a result of which
Central Park, the first Pleasure Ground in the United States (Cranz and Boland 3)

the only beneficiaries were the upper middle class, as opposed to the expected public for whom public parks were built (Cranz and Boland 103). Today, on the other hand, ecological

health goes hand in hand with public health to benefit humans, wildlife and the entire planet. To battle any present ecological concerns, urban parks, such as Central Park, now employ sustainable design practices. Due to declining budgets, Central Park has faced several ecological difficulties throughout the 20th century, such as poor maintenance of plants, the spread of invasive species, and the disappearance of animal species (Cranz and Boland 106). Nevertheless, it has managed to recover and flourish with the help of key sustainable design practices carried out by the Central Park Conservancy, founded in 1980 to restore, manage and enhance Central Park, in partnership with the public, for the enjoyment of present and future generations (About). In order to reduce maintenance and increase habitat values, the Central Park Conservancy focuses on letting nature take its course in the park (Cranz and Boland 107). For example, to switch the North Woods and Ramble in Central Park to a self-regenerating native woodland, the Conservancy is replacing the invasive Norway maples with non-invasive species. The Conservancy also tries to plant mostly ecologically suitable plants and in a way that secondary plant succession can easily proceed; it plants identical species next to each other, increasing their chances of pollination (Cranz and Boland 108). This ensures that specific ecosystems necessary for the survival of wildlife are maintained and the animals avoid endangerment. Additionally, Central Park composts its green waste and debris at a composting facility on Manhattan's Upper East Side, a cost-friendly method of handling compost that also improves the parks soil quality (Cranz and Boland 109). The Central Park Conservancy has also developed a zone-gardener program, which involves assigning a particular part of the park to one gardener, who then hires volunteers to manage that area (Cranz and Boland 108). This allows the Conservancy to address the specific requirements of each landscape type, from lakes to forests to meadows. Lastly, one

of the most important conservation tools employed by the Conservancy, as mentioned by Ken Chaya, is the fence. By fencing off certain areas of the park, the Conservancy ends up keeping away the possibly damaging influence of the 37 million annual visitors of Central Park. As Peter Harnik said in his book Humane Metropolis, the excellent city park system is a form of natural infrastructure that provides many ecological services to the city as a whole (Harnik 60). According to the aforesaid research and findings, one can say that Central Park is, in fact, an urban park thriving with biodiversity, thereby providing an ecological service to New York, aside from simply recreation and green space. Despite the citys drastic transformation from a potential crowning glory of American national parks (Sanderson 10) to a congested urban metropolis, Central Park has still managed to foster a wide range of both selfsustainable and supervised organisms. Consequently, it has benefitted both the environment and residents of NYC. Its thousands of trees and plants filter out pollutants, resulting in cleaner air, and control NYs microclimate, reducing its temperature (Harnik 60). The natural surroundings of a large park provide for more interesting and valuable learning experiences for outdoor classrooms such as ours. Finally, the beauty and biodiversity of Central Park undeniably serves as a getaway for New Yorkers from their frantic city life, providing them with both psychological and physiological benefits.

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Canada. Web. 15 Dec. 2011. <>. "Trees and Blooms." The Official Website of Central Park. Central Park Conservancy. Web. 4 Dec. 2011. <>. Winn, Marie. "Answers About Central Park Wildlife." The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 23 July 2008. Web. 4 Dec. 2011. <>.