Research at the McLean Game Refuge

We are engaged in many research initiatives across the Game Refuge and work collaboratively with wildlife biologists, botanists, archaeologists, and forest scientists from a variety of universities and conservation organizations. If you are interested in conducting research at the Game Refuge, email Director Connor Hogan (connor.hogan@mcleancare.org).

Current Research

Eastern Coyote Population Dynamics
In the fall of 2020, the McLean Game Refuge partnered with graduate student Samantha Lewis and the lab of Dr. Morty Ortega at UConn to study the eastern coyotes residing in the Game Refuge. The main study objectives are to understand diet, family dynamics, time of day movements, and resource partitioning between competitor species. So far, we have documented eastern coyote across the Game Refuge using our 35 motion-sensor trail cameras. We have found them to be active at all times of day and night, traveling in groups as large as 5 individuals, and co-occurring with their primary competitors (bobcats and red foxes). Our research is scheduled to continue through fall 2022. 

To see footage from Samantha’s 35 motion-sensor cameras, follow her on Instagram @forestrangersam.

 

All-Taxa Database
The McLean Game Refuge manages an ongoing all-taxa database through field monitoring and collaborations with other organizations including Connecticut Bird Atlas, New England Botanical Club, and Connecticut DEEP, among others. Our comprehensive species list currently contains over 1,320 species, including 458 plants, 129 birds, 24 mammals, 16 amphibians, and 10 reptiles. Elusive mammals such as the gray fox, long-tailed weasel, and fisher have been identified on the trail cameras. Endangered birds such as the American bittern and northern harrier were observed in the field. Among our rare plant species found at the Game Refuge are the long-leaved bluet and brown widelip orchid.

 

Stream Quality Assessment
In collaboration with the Farmington River Watershed Association, the McLean Game Refuge has been sampling its streams to evaluate water quality. Vertebrates and macroinvertebrates are used as “bio-indicators” which allow scientists to determine the health of the stream. At every site sampled within the Game Refuge, macroinvertebrates that are highly sensitive to pollution have been found. At many sites, pollution sensitive vertebrates such as brook trout, slimy sculpin, and northern spring salamander have also been observed. A full report of the water quality assessment will be coming soon.

 

American Chestnut Restoration
The McLean Game Refuge is coordinating with the Connecticut Chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation to help conserve this species that once dominated 25-40% of the forests in CT. Flowering American Chestnuts at the Game Refuge will be hand pollinated to ensure seed production that can be collected and brought to a Germplasm Conservation Orchard to assist in growing the most resistant individuals for reforestation. The American Chestnut Foundation is working on a variety of tools to help restore the native species. More information can be found at: https://acf.org/science-strategies/3bur/

 

Tick Sampling
The McLean Game Refuge is currently hosting scientists from the Connecticut Agricultural Experimental Station (“CAES”) who are conducting tick sampling as part of a state-wide deer tick (Ixodes scapularis) assessment funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CAES scientists are sampling at established locations along trails and forest roads to better understand the population dynamics of deer ticks and the frequency with which they carry pathogens that are harmful to humans.

For more information click here or contact Scott Williams at: Scott.Williams@ct.gov.

 

Vegetation Survey: 40-year Assessment
Since 1979, the McLean Game Refuge has been conducting decadal surveys of the trees and plants at fixed plots scattered throughout our forests. This year, we are working with graduate students from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies to complete a 40-year review of the data to understand how our forests have changed over time and how to improve our monitoring into the future. We plan to make a summary available on our website when the work is completed.

Champion Trees
Over the past five years, we have been collecting size and age data for large and old trees throughout our forests. So far we have found oaks over 350 years old, white pine trees over 150 feet tall, and both species growing over 5 feet wide. We hope to share some of our results on our “News” page soon.

Summer Forest Ranger Kelly measures a 150-year-old red oak growing on the slopes of West Mountain.

Past Research

Connecticut Bird Atlas
From 2018 to 2021, the McLean Game Refuge participated in a state-wide survey aimed at documenting bird species that breed in Connecticut.  Game Refuge staff partnered with experts birders in collecting bird breeding data across the property. 

For more information about the CT Bird Atlas click here.

Forest Inventory
In 2017, the McLean Game Refuge completed a comprehensive inventory of the entire property. Unlike our decadal survey, this was a much more nuanced look into our forests to help us better understand the spatial distributions of forest types, the extent of damage caused by invasive forest pest and pathogens, the diversity of wildlife habitats provided by our forests, and many other qualities. It is an invaluable tool in helping us make wise management decisions related to wildlife and ecosystem health.

Habitat Improvement Project
In 2002 and 2003, the McLean Game Refuge conducted a Habitat Improvement Project (“HIP”) through a series of targeted silvicultural treatments. The HIP was designed to increase the diversity of habitats available to wildlife by selectively removing portions of the tree canopy across approximately 200 acres of second-growth forest. Post-completion reviews clearly show the forest has increased vertical and horizontal structural diversity as well as expanded habitat niches for birds more commonly found at forest edges and in open areas.

The Yale Study
Between 1979 and 1981, graduate students from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies conducted a thorough study of the McLean Game Refuge for the Board of Trustees. They inventoried the vegetation, soils, geology, waterways, and wildlife across the property and surveyed the visitors who came to recreate. Using the data they collected, the graduate students prepared a comprehensive assessment which included management recommendations for conservation and recreation. They also established permanent vegetation survey plots and conducted the first survey of our now 40-year decadal vegetation survey.

1967 Natural Areas Study
In 1967, a division of Connecticut DEEP Called the State Geological and Natural History Survey of Connecticut published a study titled “The Natural Areas of the McLean Game Refuge”. This study, conducted by Frank E. Egler and William A. Niering, offers a sophisticated description of the geologic and climatic events that formed the underlying bedrock and the surface topographic features of the Game Refuge. Additionally, their study also details the diversity and distribution of the plant communities that dominated the Game Refuge over fifty years ago.

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