We've gotten quite good lugging our field equipment on public transportation (Photo: Lea Shell).

Elsa Youngsteadt and I have been setting up urban ecology experiments in New York City for the past week– we have another week to go (and are psyched two reinforcement researchers arrived on Sunday!). Doing research in the Big Apple has been both a little bit challenging and a whole lotta fun.

Elsa and I have gotten very adept at getting the stepladder through a subway turnstile and have only occasionally stepped onto the wrong train. And it’s been a little brisk temperature-wise (not quite as warm as Raleigh…BRR!). While making the rounds to our field sites in Manhattan, we’ve been able to spend some time chatting with other naturalists passionate about preserving nature in a concrete jungle.

Last week, we had the pleasure of meeting with the Central Park Conservancy and Ken Chaya of Central Park Nature to discuss citizen science projects and our current research in the Park (measuring leaf and brownbag litter breakdown, installing climate-loggers). It is so clear that these people (and the organizations they represent) absolutely love the Park — Protecting, conserving and maintaining a large plot of green space in the middle of Manhattan really means so much to the citizens of Manhattan (and visitors from all over the world)!

Our friend and Central Park naturalist-extraordinaire, Ken Chaya (Photo: Lea Shell).

Our meeting was my first time in Central Park, and I kept being awestruck at the vast amounts of nature that was surrounding us – we even saw an owl (but were sworn to secrecy where he was hiding). Hawks, vast tree diversity, and very daring squirrels seemed to be around every turn.

Ken shared his vast encyclopedic knowledge of the Park and its history, enriching our whole experience. We learned about how most of the soil in the Park was brought in by donkeys (since it was mostly exposed bedrock of sparkling Manhattan Schist), how Central Park was our nation’s first public park, and how George Washington took the island of Manhattan back from the British. It was fascinating to think of the land beneath our feet as a battleground, nature preserve and interesting geological formation all at the same time. It made us appreciate this natural space even more – motivating us further to investigate how the soil brought in by donkeys supports a world of arthropods!

We also met with the education and outreach team from the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) to talk about working collaboratively to bring the School of Ants citizen science project to the NYBG – We’re excited about all the possibilities!

A red maple specimen from the collection of NYBG's Steere Herbarium (Photo: Lea Shell).

After our meeting, Elsa wanted to check out the NYBG’s Steere Herbarium (where plant scientists keep specimens of their plants carefully labeled between pieces of special paper). The Garden supports a vast research collection from all over the world, and Elsa was able to set aside some red maple samples from the Southeastern US for us to take out on a loan.

Some of the specimens were from the 1800s and were so aesthetically pleasing! With each page I turned, I was fascinated by the handwriting and detailed stories about observations and information about where (and why!) the specimens were collected. I have a feeling we’re going to learn a lot from these historical collections.

Stay tuned to the blog and Twitter as our adventures continue this week…