Presently, 60% of Rhode Island is forested (80% of this forested land [303,000 acres] is privatelyowned by roughly 32,000 people). Approximately 80% (over 26,000 people) own forest parcels of less than 10 acres which amounts to roughly 250,000 acres of forestland in RI. This trend is not unique to our small, densely populated state. Cumulatively, they can have a significant impact on the Rhode Island landscape and their management decisions affect biodiversity, wildlife, the character of rural communities and forest health. Local governments also play an important role in forest and wildlife management within RI. Policy makers and professionals need information on which to base their land use decisions, including options for land preservation, identification of sensitive areas, and the management and protection of open space areas. In addition, invasive species threaten the sustainability of our forests and terrestrial ecosystems. Research will include: Assessment of the impacts of urbanization on seasonal woodland ponds along a disturbance gradient, with special emphasis on impacts of groundwater withdrawal on pond hydrology and amphibian habitat suitability; Investigation of use of body composition and blood metabolites of songbirds; and Economic analyses of willingness to pay for land conservation or ecosystem services will generate new knowledge in relationship to people’s willingness to support ecosystems and

conservation and to assess the potential for green markets.
Extension work will be designed to raise the awareness of forest owners, local decision makers, NGOs and state officials about the value of RI’s forest resource and to provide our audience with the tools and educational materials to make informed decisions that protect and enhance the state’s forests. We will provide data and training to planners, conservation groups, and land trusts at the municipal level to increase awareness of vital natural resources and critical habitats, including forest resources throughout the State. We will focus on delivering training in GIS technology and provide access to a wealth of spatial data through the URI Environmental Data Center Websites. We will also collaborate with the Rhode Island Natural History Survey to meet both our research and extension goals.

Goals of this Program

Research: Improve Rhode Island’s forest habitat and wildlife through:

  • Understanding how wildlife habitats, particularly vernal ponds and early successional forests can be maintained or restored to assure sustainable levels of indigenous species in the face of increasing pressures of population growth, urbanization, pollution, and inadequate public understanding
  • Improved public understanding of the life history, values and status of Ruffed Grouse
  • Increased understanding about the role of coastal habitat for the long term survival of migrating song birds.
  • Enhanced understanding of the drivers and risks associated with invasive species on terrestrial and wetland habitats. Increased understand of the public’s willingness to pay for ecosystem services. Improved understanding of the structure and functions of subaqueous soils to promote aquaculture, restoration and carbon sequestration.
Extension:
  • Increased use of geospatial information by local decision makers to improve the planning and stewardship of forested lands.
Activities
  • Sustaining wildlife through habitat management is a critical issue for RI. Migrating song birds require suitable food sources to complete their migration and coastal lands have undergone extreme changes in vegetation, potentially imperiling migration success and fecundity for many native species. Ruffed Grouse are of particular concern in southern New England because they are a native gamebird species that is currently too rare to sustain a hunting season and they serve as a “sentinel species” for the response of many species to the success or failure of management of early successional forests.
  • Although vernal ponds in forested watersheds provide essential habitat for a host of organisms, the fecundity of these organisms is highly linked to forest disturbance and management, requiring a careful understanding of the underlying ecology.
  • Invasive plants threaten the integrity of New England habitats and could affect biodiversity within the state. Research and extension programs are planned to assess invasives and develop strategies for mitigation.

Contact
Dr. Scott R. McWilliams
Professor of Wildlife Ecology & Physiology
Natural Resources Science
Room 116 Coastal Institute
srmcwilliams@uri.edu

Dr. Laura A. Meyerson
Associate Professor
Natural Resources Science
Room 111 Coastal Institute
laura_meyerson@uri.edu