Gannon University Professor Publishes Study On Erie Bluffs State Park

Posted: August 22, 2016

Twelve miles west of Gannon University's campus in Erie, Pennsylvania is Erie Bluffs State Park (EBSP). Comprising 587 acres it is the largest undeveloped stretch of Lake Erie shoreline remaining in Pennsylvania. Thanks to a study conducted by Gannon University biology professor Michael Ganger, Ph.D. and colleagues, we now know that the park is home to 555 vascular plant species.

The inventory of species was published in a paper, "The Vascular Plant Flora and Plant Communities of Erie Bluffs State Park, Erie County, Pennsylvania," written by Ganger with Ephraim A. Zimmerman and Steven P. Grund of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, and James K. Bissell of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, who compiled a flora, a set of all plants that occur naturally, or have naturalized, in a region.

According to Ganger, EBSP is a distinctive region because of the bluffs, large cliff-like structures along the shoreline, and a relic sand dune, an unusual feature that runs through the park and supports a group of unique species.

In addition to the flora, the study included community classifications, groups of species that tend to occur together because of particular environmental conditions

The research team identified vascular plant species from 14 natural plant communities. Four of these communities are limited to the Great Lakes Region: Great Lakes Region Scarp Woodland, Great Lakes Bluff Seep, Elm-Ash-Maple Lakeplain Forest and Black Oak Barrens. They also listed another 108 species reported from the area of the park, but that are unconfirmed in the park.

Of the 555 vascular plant species, 23 species are listed as species of concern, 19 represent Erie County records and three are new to the flora of Pennsylvania. Ganger himself identified 424 species at the park.

"I started working there in 2007," he said. "I was interested in learning the local species and the park itself." Ganger's work was conducted during the growing seasons between fall 2007 and 2011, though he visited periodically until 2014 in researching this paper, which was made possible by Ganger's Cooney-Jackman Endowed Professorship.

The Cooney-Jackman Endowed Professorship was created at Gannon in 2011 to provide recipients with the necessary time and resources to move their significant research forward, while also benefitting students, instruction and the national reputation of Gannon University as a premier institution of higher education.

"Doing floras like this is very difficult, but extremely important," Ganger said of his research. "This type of baseline work often has a lot of staying power in that it informs all kinds of later work, including the restoration work currently ongoing at EBSP ."