U-M’s Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum receives grant to assess at-risk plants

September 21, 2011
Frank Provenzano

 Prairie at Alex Dow Field, Nichols Arboretum. Photo courtesy U-M Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols ArboretumPrairie at Alex Dow Field, Nichols Arboretum. Photo courtesy U-M Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols ArboretumANN ARBOR—The University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum has received a grant of nearly $127,000 from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The grant enables a two-year project to locate and assess at-risk plant communities growing on the four properties managed by Matthaei-Nichols. The project runs through May 2013.

Part old-fashioned fieldwork, part high-tech information-gathering, the project is contemporary natural history for the long term. Pivotal to the project is the use of technological recording and tracking tools to create an in-depth accounting of existing natural communities, said Matthaei-Nichols director Robert Grese.

“This inventory helps us better understand the communities on our properties,” he said. “We’ll learn both the significance of what we have and provide a baseline for the future.”

The grants awarded to Matthaei-Nichols and other institutions support the essential work of caring for museum collections, said Susan Hildreth, director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services, which is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums.

“The grant roster includes conservation activities that protect art and artifacts from nearly every corner of the globe, native and endangered animals and plants, and time periods that span from early cretaceous fossils to 21st century e-games,” said Hildreth.

The grant, and the ensuing cataloging and assessment, will be a model for many other U-M properties, said Grese, who noted “there are bits and pieces out there, but no full accounting or catalog of resources.” The model, he said, is an important step in U-M taking a leadership role in natural land stewardship.

The four properties?Matthaei Botanical Gardens, Nichols Arboretum, Mud Lake Bog and Horner-McLaughlin Woods?harbor a treasure of natural heritage and a rich diversity of ecosystems, from bog to oak savanna and more. Together, they comprise a valuable research and study resource for U-M faculty, students, scholars and the general public.

A survey by Natural Areas manager Jeff Plakke revealed that 20 of the 76 communities recognized statewide by the Michigan Natural Features Inventory currently live at one or more of the properties. Of those, 16 are recognized as critical, imperiled or vulnerable in state and/or global rankings.

In addition to Plakke, U-M Herbarium botanist Beverly Walters will assist in the project along with a U-M grad student. The goal during the first season is to create a comprehensive geospatial baseline inventory and description of the four properties.

A detailed documentation and cataloging of the natural communities will employ global positioning system technology and the Michigan Natural Features Inventory classifications. The areas will be quantitatively ranked for conservation and restoration. A stewardship model along with faculty and expert consultants will be established, along with monitoring protocols. Upon completion, the results will be made public and provided to professionals in the field.

Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum is 720 combined acres of gardens, trails, woods and prairie. The Gardens are located at 1800 N. Dixboro Rd. The Arboretum is located at 1610 Washington Heights. Matthaei-Nichols is owned by the University of Michigan.



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