A garden oasis and cultural center overlooking the Hudson River

Putting NYC (Invasives) On the Map

Baruch Tauber joined Wave Hill’s Education team in late May as Forest Project Senior Crewleader, and is running the PRISM invasives monitoring initiative. Tauber holds a degree in landscape architecture. This post from the field comes as New York State’s Invasive Species Awareness Week draws to a close. 

New York City is a celebrated melting-pot of culture, ideas and identities. For centuries, New York’s harbor has welcomed immigrants from around the world. Some bring with them animals or plants that quickly established and thrived in the city’s landscape, outcompeting or even eradicating essential parts of our natural ecosystem. For this reason, some ecologists also refer to NYC as the “ground zero” for invasive species.

The city also sits on the border of multiple ecological zones. For example, Staten Island is the northernmost point for many species. Many invasives will have to pass through this region before continuing north. Similarly, the Riverdale neighborhood in the Bronx and its surrounding 900+ acres of woodlands serves as an important transition zone between the Bronx and suburbia.iMap j bar spread 0713


Here at Wave Hill, the Forest Project 2018 cohort of 22 high school students are working to restore our woodlands and learn about their ecological context. This year, for the first time, through funding help of Lower Hudson PRISM (Partnerships for Regional Invasive Species Management) students will take this work beyond Wave Hill. Working with neighborhood residents and institutions to mitigate the destructive spread of invasive species, these students are raising awareness of urban ecological systems on a neighborhood level.

An essential tool for this process is iMap Invasives, PRISM’s mobile GIS mapping technology. This app allows professionals and volunteers alike to map the spread of targeted species through an intuitive data collection interface.


Every week, Forest Project students survey a specified area looking for the presence—and absence—of an emerging or particularly threatening plant species. After using their well-honed plant ID skills to find the species, a location marker and photo is uploaded to NY State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) database for invasives management.iMapp 0713

As the summer progresses, survey results will vary from week to week and from species to species. Last week we canvassed the woodlands of College of Mount Saint Vincent in search of Japanese barberry, a once popular ornamental plant and a prime environment for deer ticks. On a recent field trip to Rockefeller State Park Preserve in Westchester, we saw dozens of barberry shrubs lining the path, yet in Riverdale we found none. Looking at the PRISM database map, we can see that barberry—while still spreading in rural and suburban areas—is apparently almost absent in New York City Parks. This is good news for the health of New Yorker City dwellers. Our survey results, along with the work of hundreds of volunteers throughout the region, is now in the State database and provides essential data for geo-specific pest management.

For nearly four decades, Wave Hill’s Forest Project has introduced hundreds of NYC students to the ecological roles of urban woodlands, as part of a patchwork ecosystem. Through piloting Wave Hill’s iMap Invasives initiative, they are learning how to apply their knowledge to their own neighborhood. Utilizing the DEC’s resources, they can begin to see a larger picture and how even small interventions at the neighborhood level can equal more than the sum of its parts.

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