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Healthier New York

Research: Air Pollution May Affect State Forest Diversity

Hoxie Gorge - Cortland students working outdoorsLast summer, two SUNY Cortland students set out to examine Hoxie Gorge State Forest  in order to investigate whether pollution has impacted the forest diversity.  Faculty Mentor Dr. Timothy J. Baroni, a Distinguished Professor in Biological Sciences, advised the pair throughout the period.

Ethan Childs and Nathan Francisco’s team surveyed lichen species within secondary succession forested areas of Hoxie Gorge, SUNY Cortland’s outdoor education facility south of the SUNY Cortland main campus.  The pair’s field-based research involves the identification of lichen, or fungus, species from a variety of trees, downed logs, rocks, and exposed ground from dozens of acres of Hoxie Gorge.  Utilizing quantitative methods of diversity analyses, the pair is comparing results to identify affects of pollution on the forest growth.

Hoxie Gorge location image“My life is richer when I get students interested in the things that I’m working on,” said Dr. Baroni, whose work focuses on the systematics and biodiversity of mushrooms.  “[Their] work has already led to discovery of a much more rich and diverse lichen community at Hoxie Gorge than was previously known.”

Childs is testing the sampled diversity of the secondary succession with old growth forest in Hoxie Gorge while Francisco tests the sampled diversity of the climax forest.  This will provide a “now-versus-then” comparison between the lichen species to find a change, if any, between two time periods.

If the hypothesis is confirmed, the deduction is made by Childs and Francisco that the diversity of lichen species in this area of New York State has declined due to increasing air pollution—since the last lichen survey of the area was taken three decades earlier.

Childs is enthusiastic about their findings.  “My fellowship has given me a real opportunity to do real research.  Definitely, the best summer I’ve ever had,” he said.

Francisco added, “My research project has shown me that learning by doing is much more effective than sitting in lectures.”

Given technological advancements, the duo will propel future research of the area by developing an online database containing information from their research and results.

The lichen research project is one of many SUNY Cortland experiments perform every year.  For more information on SUNY Cortland research, click here.


SUNY Cortland is a great place for undergraduate students to participate in real research. Research can take on many forms and varies greatly from discipline to discipline. Some research projects stem from a student’s own interest in a particular topic that he or she wishes to study in more detail. Other students become involved in ongoing faculty research.

– Undergraduate Research Council at SUNY Cortland


    Maxwell Morgan

      Written by Maxwell Morgan

      Maxwell was a Coordinator of Digital Engagement for The State University of New York.

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