Overall Rating Silver
Overall Score 48.37
Liaison Calandra Lake
Submission Date Dec. 20, 2016
Executive Letter Download

STARS v2.1

College of William & Mary
OP-10: Biodiversity

Status Score Responsible Party
Complete 2.00 / 2.00 Martha Case
College Conservator of Botanical Collections
"---" indicates that no data was submitted for this field

Does the institution own or manage land that includes or is adjacent to legally protected areas, internationally recognized areas, priority sites for biodiversity, and/or regions of conservation importance?:

A brief description of the legally protected areas, internationally recognized areas, priority sites for biodiversity, and/or regions of conservation importance:

The College of William and Mary main campus comprises approximately 1,200 acres, the majority of which is a contiguous, undeveloped and legally protected “Natural Preserve,” designated so by the Board of Visitors (BOV; with the intention to preserve and protect the area)1. Moreover, because W&M is a state college, the BOV legislation restricts the state from transferring or disposing of the property without a two thirds majority vote of all BOV members as well as the approval from The General Assembly of Virginia1. The protected area supports a mature coastal plain forest (“The College Woods”) which contains trees up to 160+ years old. The forest is also bisected throughout by many deep ravines draining into a 40 acre lake (“Lake Matoaka”) which is the oldest manmade lake in Virginia. The larger region is within the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. As a whole, the protected area is unusually diverse biologically, largely due to pockets of unconsolidated calcareous deposits that become close to the surface in the ravines and create a globally, critically imperiled ecological community (see below). Because of this, state or federally listed species have been found in the woods, and the area has been- for decades - a focal point of published ecological research by the faculty and their students at the College. The College Woods contains no internal development except for trails which are used heavily by students and the Williamsburg community for non-motorized recreation such as running, hiking and naturalizing. The trails also serve as an access point for formal classes that use the woods for study.

Has the institution conducted an assessment or assessments to identify endangered and vulnerable species (including migratory species) with habitats on institution-owned or –managed land?:

Has the institution conducted an assessment or assessments to identify environmentally sensitive areas on institution-owned or –managed land?:

The methodologies used to identify endangered and vulnerable species and/or environmentally sensitive areas (including most recent year assessed) and any ongoing assessment and monitoring mechanisms:

Methodologies: The most formal assessments of biodiversity have been comprehensive multi-year/season floristic studies. These studies have sought, in part, to identify and describe all habitats within the boundaries of the woods and lake through extensive exploration as well as documentation of all vascular plant species encountered in those habitats. Standard accepted methods were used such as geospatial referencing, herbarium specimen collection, and subsequent identification using professional manuals. There have been three formal floristic surveys, conducted at approximately 20 year intervals by faculty-mentored students at the College3. Each prior floristic study has produced a publically available thesis. Voucher specimens (or photos in the case of listed species) from each study have been accessioned into the permanent collection of the Herbarium of the College of William and Mary. We have also worked in close association with personnel at the Virginia Natural Heritage office, and our research on the Woods has contributed to the Flora of Virginia4. The most recent survey was completed in 2016 which produced a MS thesis.3 We also anticipate at least two peer-reviewed publications from that research. One of the main goals of this research was to re-visit all habitat types and populations of previously documented vascular plant species found in the woods to assess current status of the habitats and species. We also searched for new sites when a species could not be re-located, and we documented species new to the College Woods.

Monitoring: The College of William and Mary does not have a formalized monitoring program, but each successive plant systematist has continued study and monitoring of the Woods. We recognize that such long-term studies have been invaluable for a better understanding of the patterns and mechanisms of global change phenomena and we have been fortunate to have a diverse and large piece of land adjacent to the developed campus. We have several long-term studies that transcend professors at the College, and we have just established a large collaborative project in the Woods to monitor and study the effects of deer overabundance on numerous ecological phenomena5,6. Additionally, we regularly consider whether a potential new hire in a relevant field will be able to incorporate The College Woods in his/her research program.

Monitoring (other studies): Additional to the formal floristic studies described above, the College Woods has been a living laboratory in which hundreds of previous ecological studies have been conducted or are ongoing. Often, the primary goals of these studies are not to document all species of a particular taxon as in a formal survey, but biodiversity information is secondarily attained by answering the questions posed by the research. There are abundant examples of this. For example, Case and Bradford7 sought to understand the pollination biology of yellow lady’s slipper orchids and in doing so identified numerous solitary bees and other insects that visited the orchids in the College Woods. Such research has been vital in developing an overall understanding of the biodiversity of the College Woods and Lake, and has comprised published studies that focus on vascular plants, lichens, birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, fish, invertebrates (e.g., copepods, insects, mites, ticks and their diseases), algae, zooplankton, fossilized taxa, and bacteria phage diversity.

A brief description of identified species, habitats and/or environmentally sensitive areas:

Species, habitats and environmentally sensitive areas: There are far too many taxonomic groups studied in the woods to enumerate species, but recent floristic surveys can serve as a proxy to demonstrate the special characteristics of the area. First, as mentioned above, the calcareous ravine systems nested within the forested uplands create a rich diversity of taxa. Cyrus3 documents 745 vascular plant species found in the Woods. Fifteen taxa are either state or federally listed, including 8 taxa that range globally from G4 to G2. This includes the small whorled pogonia Isotria medeoloides (Pursh) Raf., a federally listed taxon under legal protection. Other surveys have also identified potentially rare organisms inhabiting the College Woods. For example, in a survey of lichen flora, Hodkinson and Case8 identified 52 potential state records out of 141 total species recorded in the Williamsburg area. Twenty of the species were found uniquely associated with the calcareous habitats of the College Woods, and many were locally rare (a more precise classification of rarity is not possible due to a paucity of published lichen biogeographical information). Importantly, the calcareous habitats of the college woods in which the rarer taxa are almost always found (formally called “coastal plain dry calcareous forests and woodlands”) is considered critically imperiled globally (G1/S1; International Vegetation Classification identifier CEGL0077489). Thus, the College Woods is among one of the few global examples of this unique habitat.

A brief description of plans or programs in place to protect or positively affect identified species, habitats and/or environmentally sensitive areas:

Programs of protection: Four mechanisms are currently in place to protect the species and habitats of The College Woods.
1. The College has recently created an administrative position that Dr. Martha Case presently holds. This position is called “The College Conservator of Botanical Collections” and its mission is to promote, preserve and develop plant collections for teaching, research and outreach. These collections include the natural habitats, cultivated campus, greenhouse and herbarium collections.
2. Ongoing formal research programs seek to monitor community stability in the College Woods, particularly the deer project5,6. One potential outcome of this study is to develop university and community support for an active deer management program to halt damage to sensitive habitats from deer overabundance. Damage due to deer is viewed as the most critical pressing threat to the species and habitats of the Woods3,10. Another potential outcome is to monitor and mitigate damage from exotic species invasion which can negatively interact with deer overabundance.
3. The legislation described above2 offers protection against the development and loss of the College Woods.
4. Educational outreach to the community, students and administration has been a major component of multiple studies in the woods. A very important outcome of this is to increase the awareness of global change problems and foster an appreciation of the College Woods in a broader perspective. This has the potential, for example, to reduce damage due to off-trail activities and increase a community lobby for deer control. See the last reference below 10 for an example of our most recent outreach video describing our conclusions about deer damage from the 2016 floristic study.

The website URL where information about the programs or initiatives is available:

Additional documentation to support the submission:

The information presented here is self-reported. While AASHE staff review portions of all STARS reports and institutions are welcome to seek additional forms of review, the data in STARS reports are not verified by AASHE. If you believe any of this information is erroneous or inconsistent with credit criteria, please review the process for inquiring about the information reported by an institution and complete the Data Inquiry Form.