Protecting Ohio's Rare Cliff and Rock Habitat
By Jennifer Finfera
Ohio Ecological Services Field Office
The moist rock outcroppings in northeastern Ohio provide habitat for the federally threatened northern monkshood. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo by Julie Reeves)
The state of Ohio has a variety of habitats, including dense forests in the southeast, marshes along the Lake Erie shoreline, and oak openings of the northwest. Another habitat that is rare and yet very important is the cliffs and ledges of northeast Ohio. The moist rock outcroppings with their caves and crevices provide vital habitat for two federally listed species: northern monkshood (Aconitum noveboracense) and the Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis).
Metro Parks, serving Summit County, protects important ledge habitat in northeast Ohio. One Metro Parks site contains a population of northern monkshood, found in only a few locations in Ohio. This federally listed threatened plant species is found on cool, moist, talus slopes or shaded cliff faces in wooded ravines. It has beautiful purple flowers and grows along the cool, moist base of a cliff at Gorge Metro Park. Staff of the Metro Parks have been monitoring the plant since the 1990s and have been doing management to improve the population since the 1980s.
In the past Metro Parks have coordinated with the Cincinnati Zoo and their Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife program to produce clones from plant material at their site to be used to augment the population. They have also selectively removed trees in an effort to allow more light to reach the population, installed a fence to reduce herbivory on the plant, and most recently hand-pulled invasive plants to reduce competition. Every year at the beginning of August biologists from the Ohio Ecological Services Field Office join Metro Park staff to monitor the population, recording the numbers of buds, flowers and fruits, as well as each plant’s height, and other information about the condition of the plants. This year the plants looked healthy, although the population numbers had decreased slightly from last year.
In addition to the work that they have done to enhance the population of northern monkshood, Metro Parks have also focused on research and education. They have worked with the Akron Garden Club to sponsor research conducted by the Holden Arboretum and have created a YouTube video (see below) that discusses the plant and its natural history.
Metro Parks are also actively working to safeguard habitat for the federally endangered Indiana bat. The cliffs and ledges in northeast Ohio provide the cool, moist caves and crevices that many bat species use to hibernate in during the winter when no insects are available to feed on. Indiana bats and other bat species hibernate in groups and predators or humans can create disturbance when they enter a hibernaculum during the winter. This disruption causes the bats to wake from hibernation, requiring them to use vital fat reserves they need to continue hibernation for the rest of the winter.
To reduce disturbance, Metro Parks has been constructing gates at the entrances of hibernacula. These gates permit bats to enter and exit freely while blocking predators and human visitors. Last year, Metro Parks identified several potential hibernacula for protection. The Columbus Ohio Field Office helped to fund the purchase of steel needed to construct one of the new bat gates, while Metro Parks provided the resources to construct the gate. It was completed this summer and will be in place to protect bats returning to the hibernaculum this fall.
In addition to their work to protect hibernacula, Metro Parks also conduct bat surveys on their properties to document the diversity and abundance of bats. This vital data will provide the Columbus, Ohio Field Office with an indication of the impacts of white-nose syndrome on bat populations. Metro Parks has collected data prior to the 2011 discovery of white-nose syndrome in the state of Ohio. Comparison of the data before and after 2011 will provide a rare opportunity to document the effects of the disease on bat populations in Ohio.
Biologists with the Columbus Ohio Field Office appreciate all the habitat protection and monitoring that Metro Parks has conducted and we look forward to continuing efforts to recover rare species