The Middle Patuxent Environmental Area (MPEA) has been the site of numerous research studies and projects since its inception. Many have sought to characterize the types of vegetation, insects, birds and other animals present, while others have focused on shifts in these flora and fauna over time. Some studies have been more observational and some have been quite scientific in nature, often with several years of data collected and analyzed. Several of the more prominent and even ongoing projects occurring within the MPEA are highlighted below.
- Woodcock Recruitment and Habitat Maintenance - The primary objective of this long-term effort is to facilitate the return of one or more nesting/breeding pairs of American woodcock (Scolopax minor) to the MPEA. Secondary to that is the necessary creation and maintenance of desirable habitat for woodcock and other wildlife that use early-successional habitat. The MPEA at one time was reported to have breeding populations of American woodcock as high as those observed anywhere in the United States. The increased presence of abandoned fields caused by agricultural decline in the middle of the 20th century provided prime woodcock habitat. However, if left to natural succession, those fields begin reverting back to forest. As the early successional habitat types are lost, so too is the preferred habitat for woodcock and other early successional species. This ongoing recruitment and maintenance effort seeks to counteract natural succession in select locations to maintain desirable woodcock foraging, nesting, singing and roosting areas. Monitoring for woodcock presence and courtship behavior is conducted each year.
- Deer Exclosure Study – In 1999, in an effort to evaluate the level and patterns of deer browsing in the MPEA and resultant effect on abundance of invasive plant species, exclosures were erected around 10 vegetated plots. These exclosures allowed birds and other mammals to freely access the test plots but kept deer out. Data from within the test plots and nearby control plots were collected in 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2012. Results to date were evaluated and summarized in a recently published paper entitled, “Overabundant Suburban Deer, Invertebrates, and the Spread of an Invasive Exotic Plant.” Thus far it seems that plant species richness (number of different species) in the exclosures is greater than in the control plots exposed to deer browsing. The control plots also contained more grasses and exotic species because deer consumption of native plants and disruption of the soil allows for invasive plants to more easily take root and out-compete natives. The research supports the continuation of the managed deer hunts and efforts in invasive species control in the MPEA.
- Floristic Study – Over 100 permanent long term vegetation monitoring plots were established at the MPEA in 2001 and sampled between June and September of that year. In an effort to assess changes in species composition, percent cover and location within the MPEA over time as well as factors that may have affected those changes, the Foundation contracted with scientists at Towson University to relocate and sample these plots beginning in summer of 2009 through summer of 2011. Vegetation was grouped into herbaceous, shrub and tree species for study. Canopy composition, differences between forest edges (along paths, fields and urban boundaries) versus interior plots, and invasive species data are also being collected. Thus far, analysis suggests that conditions at the MPEA are typical for a mid-successional secondary forest. Herbaceous and shrub layers are dominated by exotic species, likely due to relatively recent disturbance from use as agricultural fields and pastures and pressure from herbivory by deer. The overstory is composed of a mix of species expected to be dominant at different stages of succession. There was no evidence that plants from urban landscapes are currently invading the MPEA. At the conclusion of the study, the Department of Recreation and Parks will be provided with pressed and mounted plant specimens from within the MPEA. Preliminary results were presented in a scientific poster entitled, “Plant communities and successional processes in a second-growth eastern deciduous forest, Baltimore, MD” at the 2011 International Association for Vegetation Science (IAVS) Conference in Lyon, France.
- Stormwater Mitigation at Wood Elves Way – In 2010 the MPEF was the recipient of a small grant from the county to conduct a 1-year demonstration project near Wood Elves Way in Columbia. The project was intended to raise awareness about watershed issues, encourage those in the microwatershed to consider ways they can help reduce stormwater runoff, and mitigate storm water damage to the extent possible. The project was executed from start to finish by dedicated volunteers who coordinated community participation, created a project web site, designed and distributed educational materials, planted native vegetation on and otherwise reinforced channel banks, and cleared anonymously dumped refuse. Through these efforts, a gully carved out by discharge from a stormwater pipe over the last 35 years has been transformed into a more naturally flowing channel design that slows the flow of rainwater, allowing water to infiltrate into the ground, and minimizing further erosion. Similar projects that improve the quality and volume of stormwater runoff entering the MPEA are anticipated in the future as other good candidate sites are identified and mitigation funds are obtained.
- Stream Surveys: In cooperation with the Maryland Department of Natural Resouces (DNR) Stream Waders Program, Howard County Watershed Stewards Academy (WSA), HOA Program and Columbia Association (CA), WSA graduate Al Pflugrad organized volunteers and county staff to sample several lengths of stream on CA open space adjacent to the MPEA in 2016. The Maryland Stream Waders Program at DNR uses standard sampling techniques to assess stream health andcatalog stream biodiversity across the state. Some of the things that stream survey participants will look for include macroinvertebrates, freshwater mussels, crayfish, turtles, lizards, snakes, stream salamanders, frogs, and any type of invasive species. Other data, such as physical stream characteristics (average width, depth, velocity), presence of nearby vegetation, level of bank erosion, shading intensity, seasonal temperature fluctuations and water quality are also collected to help assess overall stream health. Results from these stream surveys will be shared with the HOA community as part of an outreach and education program.
- Research in Progress in 2016:
1. Dr. Kevin Omland, Department of Biological Sciences, UMBC. Using geolocators to determine migration routes and wintering localities of Baltimore Orioles and Orchard Orioles.
2. Evangeline Shank, PhD. student, Department of Biological Sciences, UMBC. Studying song structure and singing behavior in both male and female Eastern Bluebirds.
3. Dr. Sonja Scheffer, Systematic Entomology Lab, USDA. Conducting a study of the insect fauna of the MPEA and adjacent RNC.
4. Dr. Andrew Li, Agricultural Research Service, USDA. GPS tracking of white-tailed deer movements to understand tick-host interaction and improve Lyme disease vector control in Howard County.
5. Elizabeth Schotman, Masters candidate, Sustainable Development and Conservation Biology, UMBC. Conducting a study of invasive plant species populations in response to goat grazing, targeted herbicide applications, and a combination of the two removal techniques.