January 28, 2024

Mannahatta Revisited

This is a little story about my experiences with urban ecology and the incredible power of iNat to connect people and make stuff happen!!!!!! :D


For the vast majority of my conscious life, I've lived here in NYC. I love this city dearly. But until recently, I feel I haven't really gotten to know it. Not really. I've always known where to find the best bagels (pre-pandemic: Absolute, now: Popup), the best slice (Rosie's "bee sting", dont @ me), the best halal cart (I'll never reveal my secrets).

But before iNat, I didn't know a thing about the real city. The ecological communities that constitute the true bulk of NYC life, while us apes strut about as if we own the place (as if we possibly could). Our interspecific siblings, our partners in an immense, ancient, ever-changing system to which we are inextricably linked. The incomprehensibly vast and dynamic nexus that suffuses every sidewalk crack, every sewer grate, every human body with living, breathing life.

iNat opened my eyes to this world, and I'll always be thankful for it. For that alone I owe iNat so much, but also, for so much else too! Like, for example...


Last year, @tohmi very kindly messaged me on iNat and invited me to the Sixth Annual EcoFlora Conference, hosted by the New York City EcoFlora project (https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/new-york-city-ecoflora - go check them out! They rule!). One of the talks at the conference was a great lecture, given by Dr. Eric Sanderson of the NYBG, on concrete ways to make the concrete jungle better for plants (and therefore better for people).

A full recording of the conference can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6PZRnwGYRw
Dr. Sanderson's talk starts around 1:12:00.

After attending this fantastic conference, I was excited, galvanized, inspired. I wanted to learn more about the city's ecological history. So I started reading Eric Sanderson's book, Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City (Abrams, New York, 2009). It's an incredible read! I highly recommend it.

The book reconstructs the ecology of Manhattan Island in the year 1609, just prior to European arrival. It even included a list of vascular flora thought to have been present on the island at that time! That's when I really got excited.

I was like: this list is amazing! What a spectacular resource! What an incredible effort of a decade of hard work and all the latest tools in GIS and landscape ecology! How amazing is it that we can look centuries into the past and perceive those same botanical communities that the Lenape, the rightful stewards of this land, would have seen in 1609!

I HAVE to do something with this list!!


And so I did.

I wanted the list to be tabulated. So I put it all into a spreadsheet.

I also wanted the list to reflect updated botanical taxonomy (a lot's changed since 2009). So I did my best to update the taxonomy too.

Finally, I wanted to understand how many of these plants were still present in the wild of NYC - and how many I myself have seen in the city. So I made an iNat project for it!

The project can be found here: https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/native-flora-of-mannahatta-and-welikia
I describe the project in some more detail here: https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/native-flora-of-mannahatta-and-welikia/journal/89138-about-this-project

And so that's just another way in which iNat has changed my life, connected me with wonderful people and amazing resources, and deepened my understanding of the city I call home.

Thanks for reading!

Posted on January 28, 2024 03:35 AM by sus_scrofa sus_scrofa | 2 comments | Leave a comment


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