Overall Rating Silver
Overall Score 55.44
Liaison Bradley Flamm
Submission Date March 4, 2022

STARS v2.2

West Chester University of Pennsylvania
OP-10: Biodiversity

Status Score Responsible Party
Complete 1.00 / 1.00 Bradley Flamm
Director of Sustainability
Office of the President
"---" 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, or regions of conservation importance?:
No

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

"The Robert B. Gordon Natural Area for Environmental Studies (also referred to as 'the Gordon' and ‘the GNA’) occupies approximately 126 acres along the southeastern corner of West Chester University’s campus and is administered in collaboration with the University’s Office of Sustainability. Established as a protected area in 1971, the GNA has since served as a refuge for local wildlife and native plants, and as a multi-use setting for researchers, nature lovers, runners, dog walkers, and people looking to reconnect with the natural world.
In 2014 the Gordon Natural Area was designated by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources as a ‘Wild Plant Sanctuary.’ However, this designation does not afford any protection to the Gordon."


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

A list of endangered and vulnerable species with habitats on land owned or managed by the institution, by level of extinction risk:

All data are from the University’s ‘Robert B. Gordon Natural Area for Environmental Studies’ (referred to henceforth as ‘the Gordon’). A description of the Gordon is given in the next section. All IUCN data were downloaded on November 14-16, 2021.

• Birds: All 128 species of birds known for the Gordon have been assessed by the IUCN. Of these, all but four species had an assessment status of ‘Least Concern.’ These species are: Blackpoll Warbler (Setophaga striata): Near Threatened; Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica): Vulnerable; Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula): Near Threatened; and, Olive-sided Flycatcher (Contopus cooperi): Near Threatened. Additionally, four avian species known for the Gordon are included in the Pennsylvania Game Commissions list of Threatened and Endangered species: Blackpoll Warbler (Setophaga striata): Endangered; Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus): Threatened; and, Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) and Osprey (Pandion haliaetus): Recovered.

• Bryophytes: Currently, 38 species of Bryophytes are known for the Gordon. Thirty-two of these taxa have been identified to the level of species and, hence, could potentially be included in the IUCN Global Assessments. Regrettably, none of the 282 species of bryophytes for which there are IUCN Global Assessments are known to occur in the Gordon.

• Fish: Currently, there are 14 species of fish known for the Gordon. These species have all been noted in Plum Run—a tributary of Brandywine Creek—that passes through the Gordon. Of these 14 taxa, 12 have been identified to the level of species and all 12 have been assessed by the IUCN. Of these, 11 have a status of 'Least Concern.' The remaining species, the American Eel (Anguilla rostrata) is listed as 'Endangered.' One of the two 'incompletely-identified' species that has been noted in the Gordon is an African Lungfish (Protopterus sp.). This likely represents someone's former pet that was 'discarded' into Plum Run. This individual represents the sole North American occurrence for the genus in iNaturalist.

• Fungi (excluding Lichens): At this time, 427 ‘taxa’ of fungi known for the Gordon. Of these, 378 have been identified to the level of species and therefore could potentially be in the IUCN assessments. Unfortunately, of these 378 species, just ten species (2.7%) have been assessed by the IUCN. Of these ten species, just two species—Violet Coral (Clavaria zollingeri; Vulnerable) and Orange Polypore (Hapalopilus croceus; Vulnerable)—had an assessment status other than 'Least Concern.'

It is clear, however, that some uncommon species of fungi are present in the Gordon. For example, iNaturalist contains 2,865,358 observations in Kingdom Fungi in the United States (as of 11/16/2021). Of these nearly three million observations, just 10 observations are of the genus Lindquistia. Five of these ten observations are from the Gordon. Additional uncommon fungi taxa known for the Gordon are Parascedosporium putredinis (two observations: both from the Gordon) and Mycoacia (65 observations, one of which is from the Gordon).

• Herptiles (Amphibians and Reptiles): All 18 species of herptiles known for the Gordon have been assessed by the IUCN. All but one of the 18 species had an assessment status of ‘Least Concern.’ The remaining species, the Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina), had an assessment status of ‘Vulnerable.’ Two species, the Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina) and Fowler’s Toad (Anaxyrus fowleri), have a state-ranking of ‘G3G4’ (Vulnerable-Apparently Secure) by the Pennsylvania State Natural Heritage Program.

• Invertebrates: At this time, 461 ‘taxa’ of invertebrates have been noted at the Gordon. Of these, 267 species have been identified to the level of species, and therefore could be included in IUCN assessments. Of these 267 species, just 17 (6.4%) have been assessed by the IUCN. All seventeen species had an assessment status of ‘Least Concern.’

• Lichens: At this time, 50 species of lichens are known for the Gordon. Of these, just two (4.0%) have been assessed by the IUCN. Both species had an assessment status of 'Least Concern.'

• Mammals: All 13 species of mammals known for the Gordon have been assessed by the IUCN. All species had an assessment status of ‘Least Concern.’

• Slime Molds: Currently, 42 species of 'Slime Molds' (Myxomycetes) are known for the Gordon. The IUCN has a working group (the Chytrid, Zygomycete, Downy Mildew, Slime Mould Specialist Group) that is assessing the status of slime molds. However, at this time no species data are available through the IUCN website.

• Vascular Plants: Of the 657 species of vascular plants that have been noted at the Gordon, just slightly more than a quarter (175 species; 26.6%) have been assessed by the IUCN. Of these 175 species, all but four species had an assessment status of ‘Least Concern.’ These species are: American Chestnut (Castanea dentata): Critically Endangered; White Ash (Fraxinus americana): Critically Endangered); Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica): Critically Endangered; and, Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis): Vulnerable. Two additional vascular plant species, Wild Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) and Tuckerman's Panic-grass (Panicum tuckermanii) are ranked by NatureServe as being globally vulnerable. Wild Ginseng possesses a global ranking of ‘G3G4’ (Vulnerable-Apparently Secure), while Tuckerman’s Panic Grass is ranked ‘G3-G5’ (Vulnerable-Secure).


Has the institution conducted an assessment to identify areas of biodiversity importance on land owned or managed by the institution?:
Yes

A brief description of areas of biodiversity importance on land owned or managed by the institution:

The Gordon Natural Area (39°56'8.52"" N, 75°35'55.68"" W, ~140 m asl) is located in Chester County, Pennsylvania on the campus of West Chester University, and its borders encompass approximately 126 acres (51 ha) across three townships. The majority of the land area is in West Goshen Township, with smaller portions in East Bradford and Westtown Townships. Established as a protected area in 1971, the Gordon has since contributed to a growing network of protected open space in Chester County, with significant economic, environmental, and recreational benefits for the community.

The Gordon is administered in collaboration with the University’s Office of Sustainability. A variety of habitats comprise the GNA, including deciduous forest, forested floodplains and streams, a small serpentine barren, and land undergoing restoration (native reforestation and early successional meadow). This land is bordered by WCU’s athletic fields, as well as suburban development. A majority of the Gordon’s land is under forest cover, and the largest portion of the forest is approximately 80 acres. Approximately 40% of this area was clearcut in the early 1900's but has regenerated well and possesses a closed canopy and many species of conservation concern; the remainder of this area contains many trees that are 220+ years old (based on tree coring that we've undertaken). This 80-acre patch of forest is embedded within a larger ~90-acre forest fragment, the remainder of which is privately owned by different individuals.

The westernmost portion of the Gordon Natural Area contains a small serpentine barren (Global Conservation Status Rank G2: Imperiled Globally).


The methodologies used to identify endangered and vulnerable species and/or areas of biodiversity importance and any ongoing assessment and monitoring mechanisms:

The Gordon has served as a living laboratory for WCU faculty and students since its establishment. Within the last ten years, active research projects have been led by faculty in Anthropology and Sociology, Biology, Earth and Space Science, Environmental Health, and Geography and Planning.

Research projects are diverse and include archaeological digs, vegetation, soils and bedrock surveys, assessment of carbon stocks, quantification of the soil seed bank, monitoring for the non-native Spotted Lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula), and measurements of stream water quality.

Much of the research performed in the GNA includes WCU undergraduate and graduate students, who regularly present their findings at WCU’s College of the Sciences and Mathematics Research Day, the University-wide Research Day, and regional conferences such as the Pennsylvania Academy of Sciences Annual Meeting and the Sigma Xi Student Research Symposium at St. Joseph’s University. WCU faculty lead weekly avian forays in the Gordon during the spring and fall (with sporadically-timed forays during the other times of the year). Three site-wide floristic surveys have been undertaken in the Gordon during 1984, 2007, and 2018.

Additionally, the Gordon is currently being used as a research site by Pennsylvania's Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. This research entails: 1) a study of the Spotted Lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula), an invasive insect; and, 2) a survey (and early-warning site) for Beech Leaf Disease.


A brief description of the scope of the assessment(s):

Research and monitoring of the flora and fauna in the GNA have been an area of recent focus by Stewardship Manager Nur Ritter and the GNA’s student interns, as these activities directly support effective management of the area. One substantial example of this work is the compilation of a comprehensive vascular plant checklist for the GNA that incorporates herbarium specimens and historical records, as well as ancillary data for the species present including allelopathic potential, ant dispersal, utility to beneficial insects, deer resistance, and life history information.

Checklists now also exist for birds, bryophytes, fish fungi, herptiles (amphibians and reptiles), invertebrates, lichens, mammals, and myxomycetes (i.e., slime molds).

Other significant research led by GNA staff includes early detection monitoring and biological control efforts associated with the non-native Emerald Ash Borer (Agrilus planipennis).


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

Populations of ‘noteworthy’ plant species that are susceptible to browse are fitted with exclosures (either small, single-plant ‘cages’, or larger fenced exclosures for multiple plants). State-listed species are georeferenced, mapped and monitored. Student interns are trained to recognize species of interest and any new occurrences are mapped.


Estimated percentage of areas of biodiversity importance that are also protected areas :
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Website URL where information about the institution’s biodiversity initiatives is available:
Additional documentation to support the submission:

Data Provided by: Nur Ritter, Gordon Natural Area Stewardship Manager, nritter@wcupa.edu, 610-436-2722.
Data Entry: Lois Howell, 17-Dec-21

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.