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Research & Monitoring

Research Projects

Research Grant Program

Cleveland Metroparks is committed to the use of scientific information to guide conservation actions, and to that end, a Natural Resources Research and Monitoring Program was implemented.

The program’s goal is to stimulate, initiate, and collaborate on research, monitoring, and assessment projects that provide reliable and defensible scientific information for the conservation, preservation, and management of natural resources and the impacts on those resources related to park visitation and the changed urban environment within Cleveland Metroparks and northeastern Ohio.

A permit is required for any research or collection activities conducted in Cleveland Metroparks (whether they visibly disturb the site or not). This includes but is not limited to plants or plant parts, soil and minerals, animals, insects, and water sample collections.

Permits are required prior to conducting research and monitoring projects within the boundaries of Cleveland Metroparks. Additional state and federal permits may be necessary depending on the scope of the project. For more information regarding permits and research options click here.

Rocky River Valley Bird Survey

In cooperation with the Western Cuyahoga Audubon Society

The WCAS is continuing their survey of forest breeding birds to provide information about bird populations of the Rocky River watershed. After WCAS adopted the Rocky River Important Bird Area in 2005, it only seemed natural to them that they take an active role in monitoring the bird populations of the region.

Important Bird Areas (IBA) are tracts of land designated by Ohio Audubon as crucial habitat for birds and other wildlife. The Rocky River IBA consists of the watershed for the East Branch of the Rocky River, which extends from Hinckley to North Olmsted and then north to the mouth of the river in Lake Erie. The valuable forests and wetlands of Rocky River, Mill Stream Run, and Hinckley reservations are all part of the Rocky River IBA.

Over sixty volunteers have participated in recording bird presence at randomly selected points in Rocky River, Mill Stream Run, and Hinckley reservations to estimate population sizes relative to reservation size and plant composition.

The surveys indicate that the relative abundance of birds classified as needing forest interior habitat generally is greater in the broad forests of Hinckley Reservation compared to either Rocky River or Mill Stream Run reservations. However, certain forest dwelling species such as the Scarlet Tanager and Wood Thrush are more abundant at Mill Stream Run and Rocky River reservations, respectively.

Volunteers are also collecting vegetation data to correlate vegetative structure and composition with bird counts. Ohio Audubon had designated The Rocky River Watershed as an IBA (Important Bird Area) because the habitat has been deemed critical for birds and other wildlife.


Deer browsing can affect homeowners 
as well as the natural resources in 
Cleveland Metroparks.

Impact of Deer on Forest Floor Dynamics
In cooperation with Cleveland State University

The impact of deer on forest ecosystems is not a new phenomenon. In 1949,Aldo Leopold said that:

“… as a deer herd lives in mortal fear of its wolves, so does a mountain live in mortal fear of its deer…, for while a buck pulled down by wolves can be replaced in two or three years, a range pulled down by too many deer may fail of replacement in as many decades.”

Deer over-browsing adversely affects plants, but high deer densities may also alter populations of other animals and insects. This study, initiated in 2006, compares areas with high and low deer densities to determine differences in vegetative composition and structure and how these attributes relate to the diversity and numbers of creatures inhabiting the forest floor.

Various trap designs have captured small mammals such as mice, shrews, voles, moles, chipmunks, and weasels as well as forest floor invertebrates including mites, centipedes, millipedes, and snails.

Preliminary results show that the number of tree seedlings and saplings, leaf litter depth, and soil moisture are good indicators of what mammals live on the forest floor.

Areas with high deer impact such as the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and Brecksville Reservation have lower numbers of under-story trees, less leaf litter, and dryer soils. In turn, these areas appear to have fewer small mammals and fewer invertebrates on which the small mammals feed.

Forest Vegetation Survey/Deer Impact and Recovery

A Cleveland Metroparks Natural Resources Division study

An intensive vegetation survey has been in progress since 2003 to provide data on plant species composition and structure in Cleveland Metroparks.

This survey is documenting the multitude of species found in Cleveland Metroparks including common uncommon grasses, forbs, shrubs, and trees.

Most importantly, periodic resurveys of the hundreds of plots scattered throughout the park district will reveal changes in plant composition and forest structure

Thus far, North Chagrin, South Chagrin, Bedford, Brecksville, Bradley Woods, West Creek and Rocky River Reservations have been included in this survey.


Blanding's Turtle Project
In cooperation with Cleveland Metroparks Zoo and John Carroll University

In 1999, a small population of the Blanding’s turtles was found at the Ohio and Erie Canal Reservation. Blanding’s turtles are listed as endangered or threatened in several states, and the Ohio Division of Wildlife lists them as a “Species of Special Concern” indicating that further loss in numbers could lead to higher protective status. Less than 10 populations occur naturally in Ohio.

In cooperation with the Zoo, a program was initiated to increase the OEC population as well as develop methods for potential reintroduction to other areas. For the past several years, work has centered on studying the biology of a population of Blanding’s turtles at Sheldon Marsh, about 60 miles west of Cleveland, to learn more about this species biology. Turtles have been equipped with radio transmitters to track movements, allow recapture, and locate reproductively active females as part of a dietary and reproduction study. To view a recently completed Master’s thesis on this study, click here.

Non-destructive sampling of recaptured turtles indicates that their diets consists primarily of snails but also include beetles, water bugs, fish, tadpoles, and crawfish. This is contrary to reports from other states that indicate a diet rich in crawfish. Observed nesting behavior also differs from other reports. Nests are shallower and the process takes longer, possibly because of the high silt and clay content and high compaction of the soils at Sheldon Marsh.

Newly hatched young at Sheldon Marsh are outfitted with transmitters to track movements and document predation. Young hatchlings also have been reared at the Zoo as part of a “head-starting” program to provide larger individuals for reintroduction at Ohio and Erie Canal Reservation in hopes of lowering rates of predation.

To date, over 30 individuals have been released at OEC, many with transmitters to follow their movements and survival. Several turtles have been recaptured five years after their release indicating that survival is good.

A Coyote Howling Survey 

Cleveland State University researchers are studying ant diversity in northeastern Ohio.

In cooperation with Cleveland State University

A graduate student and volunteers are listening for coyotes in North Chagrin, Bedford, and West Creek reservations to learn more about the numbers and locations of coyotes in the Park District. Coyotes are present throughout northeastern Ohio, and they can be found (or heard) in nearly all Cleveland Metroparks reservations. Under strict guidance of Natural Resource Division staff, the student uses recorded calls to entice these animals to howl, thus giving away their approximate location and numbers. Using a geographical information system and aerial photography, the student is hoping estimate home ranges and population sizes in these reservations.

Coyotes have adapted easily to urban environments because of their varied diets and ability to construct dens or utilize human structures for homes. Coyotes are normally very wary of human beings. However, in urban areas there are less threats from hunting and trapping and more likely to associate people with an easy and dependable source for food. Under these circumstances, they can become very bold. They will visit homes regularly if food is regularly present. Coyotes have learned that pet food left outdoors and small dogs and cats are easy prey. Newspapers across the country have carried stories of coyotes harassing leashed dogs on walks with their owners in and near parks and golf courses within city limits.  For additional coyote information, see our Featured Animal web page.

Forest Leaf Litter/Ant Diversity in Forests

In cooperation with Cleveland State University

Wetlands are mapped using sophisticated 
GPS equipment to optain accurate 
estimates of wetland size.

Ants are important predators of other insects, and they play important roles in seed dispersal and breakdown of organic matter.

Through a series of sample sites set up in, Huntington, Garfield Park, Bradley Woods, South Chagrin, North Chagrin, Hinckley, Bedford, and Brecksville reservations, scientists from Cleveland State areas evaluating the impacts of forest fragmentation on leaf-litter ant communities. The goal is to determine whether smaller forest patches have fewer ant species than larger ones and to document ant species occurring in NE Ohio. Preliminary analysis shows that species richness differs little among the sites with intermediate sized reservations having lower species numbers than either large or small reservations. Moreover, previously undocumented ant species have been found during the surveys.  For more information click here.

Fragment size alone is apparently not a good indicator of ant species numbers, and other factors may play prominent roles.

Wetland Assessment 

A Cleveland Metroparks Natural Resources Division study

In 2005, staff began a wetland evaluation project to develop baseline data on wetland condition and quality using the Ohio Rapid Assessment Method. The assessment is based on wetland size, surrounding land use, hydrology, habitat alteration, special wetland designations, plant communities, and micro-topography. Scores (0-100) are then assigned with higher scores indicating higher quality wetlands.

The results, which to date include surveys of 274 wetlands, show that our wetlands include predominantly vernal pools, forested wetlands (swamps), emergent marshes, and wet meadows with bogs and fens absent presumably because of geologic history. Scores ranged from 13 for a wetland at Brookside Reservation to 87.7 for an exceptional, large wetland at Hinckley Reservation. Natural wetlands scored higher on average than created wetlands, and Hinckley Reservation had more high quality wetlands than other reservations because of its large size and protected watershed.

This information supports efforts to protect wetlands in large, less developed areas from further development and fragmentation, and challenges us to uncover strategies for enhancing natural wetlands in developed areas.

Starting in summer 2007, a focused study was initiated through Cleveland State University to collect additional floristic data in select wetlands from this project to determine whether wetland size or urbanization is a better predictor of total plant species richness and wetland quality.

Primary Headwater Stream Census 

In cooperation with Cuyahoga Valley National Park

In 2003, using protocol developed by the Ohio EPA, Cleveland Metroparks began a census of primary headwater streams in the Park District. Similar evaluations are occurring in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. This project is collecting information on habitat features and aquatic life to classify stream quality using procedures developed by the Ohio EPA Division of Surface Water.

Primary headwaters serve as the origins of all larger streams and rivers. They play an essential role in watershed health by moderating flow from heavy rains, processing nutrients, and reducing sediment. These streams also provide habitat for some of Cleveland Metroparks most unique native flora and fauna in both their waters and in surrounding riparian habitat areas.

Unfortunately, headwater streams are subject to a wide variety of negative impacts caused mostly by urban and rural development including channelization, culverting, habitat destruction, and pollution. To date, Rocky River and Mill Stream Run reservations have been completed, and seasonal staff initiated sampling in Hinckley Reservation during 2008. A PDF version of a presentation on this project is available here.

Exotic European Wood Wasp (Sirex noctilio) 

In cooperation with USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service

Trap used to capture Sirex wood wasp.

APHIS is conducting a small trapping program for Sirex wood wasp in Cleveland as well as other cities in the state. The wasp is often found in wood packing materials at ports-of-entry. However, in 2004 an individual wasp was discovered in a mixed species forest near Fulton, NY and additional specimens have been since found at additional locations in NY and PA. It prefers pine species, especially loblolly and Monterey pines.

To determine incidence only, APHIS will place Lindgren funnel traps (pictured right) within a 50 mile radius of the Port of Cleveland. Several traps will be located within Cleveland Metroparks. For additional information on the APHIS Sirex program click here.

Status of an Amphibian Fungal Disease in Northeastern Ohio 

In cooperation with Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, Mount Union College, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, and Geauga Park District

In March, cooperators began a project to describe the host and geographic range of Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) on amphibians in Northeastern Ohio. Bd is the fungal organism that causes an emerging infectious disease implicated as one cause of amphibian declines worldwide. 

Bd has been found previously in field collected amphibians from northeast Ohio, and the possibility exists that the diverse amphibian population currently residing in our area resulted from a previous, unrecorded population decline that took place sometime after the initial introduction of Bd to the area. Moreover, wetlands in Ohio have been subjected to large disturbances for the last 150 years. Intensive agriculture, mining, and industry along with an ever increasing human population have had significant impact on wildlife species including amphibians.

Since Bd is present, this study will help determine if it is widespread or limited in occurrence. If widespread, the amphibian species remaining in the region are likely resistant to the lethal effects of this pathogen. However, if Bd is only present in limited locations or species, the amphibian populations of this region may still be in danger of declines.

Volunteers and staff from Cleveland Metroparks and Geauga Park District are following strict protocol to collect skin swabs from local amphibian species in pond, wetland, and stream. Environmental data including habitat type, water depth, and temperature, and animal data including length, sex, and breeding condition are collected at each site.

Mount Union College faculty and students are using a tool called quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) to analyze DNA from the skin swabs to determine the presence or absence of the fungus. After the appropriate permits were obtained, extensive sampling occurred from April through October in forested vernal pools, semi-permanent ponds and streams across the northeast Ohio region.

Frogs, toads, and mole salamanders (Ambystomatidae) at various stages of maturity comprise the majority of amphibians sampled from April to May. From mid-May through July, several sites were re-sampled, and several streams and riparian areas were sampled in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and Cleveland Metroparks. Lungless salamanders (Plethodontidae) dominated these habitats. Of special interest was a longtail salamander (Eurycea longicauda) sampled at a site in Medina County.

The analysis of samples has just started, and results will be posted when available.

The Impact of Deer Browsing and Flowering Plant Abundance on the Reproductive Success of Mayapple 

In cooperation with Baldwin-Wallace College

The Impact of Deer Browsing and Flowering Plant Abundance on the Reproductive Success of Mayapple 

Mayapple is an herb that grows in forests throughout the Midwest. It is pollinated by a variety of bees. As forests have been cleared and converted to other uses, there has been growing concern that pollinator populations would decline.

In a previous study, scientists at Baldwin-Wallace College compared 3 areas across northern Ohio in which forest cover varied from more than 50% (Lake County), to 15-20% (Lorain County), to less than 10% (Henry County). The decline in forest cover corresponded to an increase in the intensity of row crop agriculture across these counties. Instead of revealing a relatively low rate of pollination and fruit production in Henry County, the Baldwin Wallace Study found that Henry County plants had the highest rate of pollination and fruit production.

The absence of the predicted relationship among deforestation, agriculture and mayapple reproductive success leaves unanswered the question of what, in fact, controls variation in mayapple reproduction. One factor that may influence reproductive success is the density of other flowering plants in the vicinity of mayapple. Mayapple does not produce nectar and does not attract large numbers of insects. Other plants growing in the vicinity of mayapple may produce nectar and attract insects that then inadvertently visit and pollinate mayapple flowers.

In 2006, study results showed that the Henry County sites had a higher density of flowering, non-mayapple plants than the Lake County sites. This difference could be caused by the impact of deer browsing. In Henry County, deer can focus their browsing on crop and forage plants that are often very high in mineral content from crop fertilization. In Lake County, deer may have fewer options because of more extensive forest cover and much less agriculture. In Cleveland Metroparks, our vegetation survey has demonstrated that excessive browsing by deer can eliminate forest herb populations.

In spring 2008, Baldwin Wallace faculty and undergraduate students began an examination of the combined impact of deer browsing and the availability of non-mayapple magnet plants on the pollination and fruit production of mayapple in Cleveland Metroparks. Observations indicate that substantial variation in deer browsing exists, and in areas of high deer impact, mayapple actually seems to thrive given a low preference for browsing by deer. Because the researchers can identify mayapple populations in areas of both relatively high and low deer impact, they will be able to compare pollination and fruit production levels as a function of deer impact and specifically in terms of the density of flowering plants that might attract pollinators.

Urban Wildlife Population Study

Cleveland Metroparks has partnered with researchers at Michigan State University to launch a long-term urban wildlife project throughout the Metroparks system. Collaboratively, we have deployed more than 100 camera traps that non-invasively sample wildlife populations by taking pictures of animals as they trigger the cameras by their motion and body heat. With this data, we seek to understand the distribution and abundance of wildlife throughout the park system. Our findings will help us understand interactions among the abundant animal life within the reservations to facilitate ongoing management and conservation efforts focused on these species.  The camera traps are intended to capture photographs of animal wildlife in open fields on land accessible to all members of the public.