Biodiversity Patterns in the Hackensack Meadowlands

 

Erik Kiviat, Hudsonia Ltd., P.O. Box 5000, Annandale NY 12504; kiviat@bard.edu; 845-758-7273

 

Kristi MacDonald, Ecology & Evolution Program, Rutgers University, ENR Building, Cook Campus,

New Brunswick NJ 08901

 

The Meadowlands are a refuge for rare species and unusual urban biota despite environmental damage. Within an otherwise developed area, extensive wetlands and waterways attract mobile species such as birds and fishes. Urban, industrial, and transportation land uses are not tolerated by some species but create havens for others. We analyzed biodiversity patterns based on the literature and original observations. Birds are best documented: 33 state-listed endangered, threatened, declining, or rare birds include 12 raptors, 4 herons, and 2 rails; 20 species are associated with waters or wetlands, 7 with grasslands, 5 with forests. Raptors exploit abundant prey and extensive tracts of Phragmites marsh with minimal human activity used for winter roosting (several species) or breeding (northern harrier). Invertebrates are poorly studied: ca. 50 species of native bees have been found at a single landfill site, using native and introduced nectar plants, and nesting in eroding soil and hollow plant stems. The clam shrimp Caenestheriella gynecia, a de facto endangered species, abounds in ATV-maintained puddles on a gas pipeline road. Few amphibians are represented, probably due to contamination and limited availability of natural upland soils. Remnants of natural vegetation, including the forests and meadows of the northern Meadowlands, the bluejoint meadows of the Empire Tract, low-salinity marshes of the upper estuary, and rocky habitats of Little Snake Hill and Laurel Hill, may support undocumented plants and invertebrates of conservation significance. Many aspects of Meadowlands biology remain poorly studied, including habitat functions of common invasive plant communities (Phragmites, Ailanthus, Paulownia, Artemisia vulgaris), inactive landfills, and recent burns. Habitat units with unusual native species or communities can serve as models for restoration and management of other sites once biodiversity goals are clarified.