Species Lists

The losses of biodiversity that we hear the most about are occurring in the tropics. There natural areas with great intrinsic biodiversity are being destroyed at a rapid rate. But biodiversity is something that exists in our backyards too; and it is threatened here just as it is in the tropics. In a way our local biodiversity is easier to relate to because it is more personal - it is what we actually experience. So, the first question is what do we know about the biodiversity of the Boquet watershed?

"The beginning of wisdom is calling things by their right names." Chinese proverb

The beginning of any study of biodiversity is constructing a list of the species present in the area. The Boquet River Association has begun gathering this sort of information. The information has usually come from different governmental agencies, each concerned with different groups of organisms. For example, we've received information about fish from Fisheries in the Department of Environmental Conservation but information about reptiles and amphibians has come from the New York State Natural Heritage Program. Sometimes the information isn't specific enough for our purposes. It may tell us that a certain species is present in New York State or in Essex County but not whether it occurs in our watershed. As we begin to compile the lists we have tried very hard to include only species that have actually been found in the watershed and not let slip in any that are only "supposed" to be here.

In two instances, fish and reptiles/amphibians, we have fairly complete information. These species lists are published in the website.

In the case of plants, where distribution information is available only on a state and county level, I have begun to create a list and database for the Boquet watershed and the Lake Champlain drainages of Westport, Essex, and Willsboro. There are no funds to do this, but walking around looking at plants has always appealed to me and I have a technical background in plant taxonomy. So, on weekend hikes or even as I do other field work I make notes about what plants I see, where they are, and what habitats they are in. I have to emphasize that this is a very low-key effort and is more of a hobby than a job (except for entering the information in the database).

Over the last two years I've come up with a confirmed list of about 600 species of vascular plants in the area. In some cases adding a new species to the list is as simple as recognizing it. You can't mistake white trillium (Trillium grandiflora) for anything other than what it is. On the other hand the identification of those like the rosy sedge (Carex rosea) depends on the determination of many of the characters of the tiny seed-bearing capsule - the perigynium - and requires at least a good hand lens or better, a stereo dissecting scope.

At this point I've perhaps found a lot of the trees and shrubs, some of the herbs and wildflowers, and a few of the grasses and sedges. This list may eventually number 700 to 900 species. This seems like a rich flora for such a small area. For a comparison, the whole state of North Dakota has only about 1000 species. This list of vascular plants known to be in the Boquet watershed is included in the website.

A species list is only the first step in studying biodiversity. Are the Adirondacks still a whole carpet or have they already been irreversibly cut up into doormats (see biodiversity)? And what can we do about it?  

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