GILBERTS CORNER, VA. (Oct 8, 2020) – From 9-11 a.m. on Mondays, Oct. 12 and Oct. 19, eight George Mason University plant ecology students will be at Roundabout Meadows collecting and identifying plant species as part of a formal survey of vegetation in the seven-acre wetlands preserve area of the Piedmont Environmental Council-owned property. Their long-term floristic study is led by Dr. Andrea Weeks, associate professor and director of GMU’s Ted R. Bradley Herbarium. It is sponsored by a grant from the Virginia Native Plant Society and conducted in partnership with The Piedmont Environmental Council.
“I am delighted to collaborate with The Piedmont Environmental Council on this project. The mission of George Mason University’s herbarium is to advance our understanding of Virginia’s flora and to provide hands-on educational opportunities for our students – and the Gilbert’s Corner study is designed to fulfill both goals,” Weeks said.
The group’s work follows that of recent GMU graduate Cameron Pierce, who received funding through the Garden Club of America’s Joan K. and Rachel M. Hunt Summer Scholarship in Field Botany to begin the survey this past summer. He recorded around 140 species, including some rare species and one that may not have been previously documented in Loudoun County. Pierce’s complete list of plants from the site can be viewed on iNaturalist, an online database and community of scientists and naturalists who record and share their projects and observations and a project of the National Geographic Society. While some species still need to be identified, so far there have been some significant findings related to rare species collected and the potential submission of a county record.
Roundabout Meadows is located at Gilberts Corner, where PEC has helped protect more than 325 acres of land in an important transition zone between the historic, rural landscapes of western Loudoun County and the newer suburban neighborhoods to the east. At 141 acres, Roundabout Meadows is a highly visible showcase for ecologically responsible agricultural practices and their effects on habitat quality for native plants and animals. Because Gilberts Corners lies within the 386-square-mile Goose Creek watershed that drains to the Potomac River, PEC’s work here focuses on improving water quality and restoring wetland and upland habitat.
“We expect the effects of our restoration work to be substantial, but we lack baseline data about the current plant biodiversity at Roundabout Meadows. The students’ plant survey will establish that baseline for us, creating a checklist of plant species within the meadow today that will allow us to track and measure the effects of restoration activities in place over time,” said PEC Habitat Specialist Celia Vuocolo.
“The students will also develop long-term monitoring plans for the flora and create interpretive signage to engage and educate the local community about the ecological value of Virginia’s native flora. We are excited to have these young botanists as our partners and expect their work to significantly advance both our restoration and outreach efforts at Roundabout Meadows,” Vuocolo said.
Additionally, the project will augment initiatives to bolster botanical education at GMU’s undergraduate level. “PEC’s conservation work at Roundabout Meadows is a compelling success story that should resonate with my students. The project is designed as an opportunity for them to practice field botany, which is disappearing from many college curricula. And it allows them to contribute to a conservation initiative that directly affects Northern Virginia,” said Weeks. “The next generation of ecologists and natural resource managers need this type of hands-on botanical training, so I am grateful to PEC that George Mason University students will have access to this field site as a living laboratory.”
Since 1972, The Piedmont Environmental Council has proudly promoted and protected the natural resources, rural economy, history and beauty of the Virginia Piedmont. PEC empowers residents to protect what makes the Piedmont a wonderful place, and works with residents to conserve land, improve air and water quality and build thriving communities. PEC is a 501(c)(3) non-profit and accredited land trust. Learn more at www.pecva.org