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Gordon Natural Area

Biota of the GNA

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Gordon Natural Area

Merion Science Center
Room 010
720 S. Church Street
West Chester, PA 19383


Gordon Faculty

Name: Nur P. Ritter
Phone: 610-436-2722

The Biota of the Gordon Natural Area

The GNA is home to numous species, including fungi, plants (604 species), insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds (105 species), and mammals.

 In the sections below, descriptions and/or photographs are provided for a number of these biotic groups.


Fungi play an enormous role in ecosystem health and function. The greatest portion of fungal biomass is below-ground. Still macrofungi (i.e., 'visible' fungi') are very evident, and are often visually striking (e.g., turkey tail fungi).

The greatest portion of mycological research at the GNA has been undertaken by Dr. Greg Turner (Department of Biology) and his students.  At this time, 25 species of macrofungi have been documented at the GNA. The actual number of macrofungi at the preserve is assumed to be significantly higher.  

Some of the macrofungi found in the Gordon Natural Area (click on the image to see a larger version):

  • Turkey Tail
  • Shaggy Mane
  • Common Morel
  • Golden Fairy Helmet



Despite the Gordon’s relatively small size (ca. 137 acres) and its proximity to extensive development, the preserve supports an extremely high diversity of plants.  The compiled plant list for the site currently contains 604 species.  Of these, 17 species are are on the Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program's list of species of conservation concern.

Plant life at the GNA has long held an attraction for both Faculty (beginning with Dr. Gordon) and students.  There have been three site-wide floristic surveys of the GNA: 1984 (by biology students Jack Holt and Jim Plyler); 2007 (by Jack Holt, now a botanical consultant, and his wife Janet Ebert); and 2017 (a currently ongoing survey by Jack Holt and Janet Ebert).  Because of this intensity of effort, the vascular plants constitute the best-known biotic group.

When compared with other Parks, Natural Areas, and Preserves in the state, the Gordon is seen to be strikingly rich (Table 1). Despite being the fourth smallest of the thirteen sites included in the comparison, the Gordon was found to have the largest number of plant species.

Table 1.  A comparison of plant diversity among the Gordon Natural Area and twelve other parks and preserves in southeastern Pennsylvania.  The sites are sorted in descending order by number of species.

Property Area (ac) # of Spp. State-listed Spp.
Gordon Natural Area 137 604 17
Evansburg State Park 3,349  543  10 
Spring Mountain Conservation Area 3,338  533  16 
Green Lane Park 3,400 418  12 
Whites Mill Preserve 108 399  11 
Fulshaw Craeg Preserve 299  391  14 
Swamp Creek Conservation Landscape 9,383  388 
Stroud Preserve 571  380  15 
Crum Woods Preserve 220  325  15 
Ridley Creek State Park 2,606  318   8
Meng Preserve/Stone Hill Greenway 100  235 
Jane Reed Park 9.7 199 
Tucquan Glen Nature Preserve* 336  184  22


Nevertheless, in a single site-wide botanical survey of the Gordon in 2007, 499 species were found.  This level of richness would still place the Gordon third on the list.  And, the two preserves that have a greater number of species each possesses approximately thirty times the area of the Gordon.As noted above, the Gordon has benefited from a long history of faculty and student research, and these activities have undoubtedly resulted in a more complete floristic list than is available for most of the other areas being compared in Table 1.

 Note: An annotated checklist of the vascular plants of the GNA is available on Digital Commons


A few of the insects found in the Gordon Natural Area:

Terrestrial Insects  (click on the image to see a larger version):

  • Beech?
  • Vespidae
  • Two ladybugs mating on a stem of garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata), an invasive herb


Aquatic Insects (click on the image to see a larger version):

  • Elmidae
  • Olegoneriidae
  • Tipulidae

Amphibians & Reptiles

Amphibians and reptiles have been little studied at the GNA.  Eastern box turtles and Eastern American Toads are fairly abundant and are commonly encountered, and various species of snakes and salamanders are occasionally seen.  

With a life-span of 120+ years, box turtles are likely the longest-living animals in the GNA.  Recently, we've begun to plant tree species that are known to be food sources for box turtles, with an aim towards increasing food resources for this species.

Below are some images of amphibian and reptile species that are characteristic of the GNA (click on the image to see a larger version):


  • Eastern American Toad (Anaxyrus americanus)



  • Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina)
  • Garter Snake



Birds consitute the second-most (after plants) intensively studied biotic group at the GNA.  In 2004, the West Chester Bird Club conducted a year-long study of the avifauna of the GNA.  Results of that survey are available here on DigitalCommons.  Since that time, birding continued at the GNA, but data were not regularly compiled in a central area.  However, in recent years, Dr. Josh Auld (Department of Biology) has been leading birding outings to the GNA.  Data from this research has been compiled in-house and has also been submitted to eBird.

To date, one hundred five bird species, in thirty-six families, have been observed in the GNA.  Of these, five species are on the  Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program's list of species of conservation concern.

Dr. Harry Tiebout (Department of Biology) has taken numerous photographs of birds in the GNA (and other areas).  Some of these photos are presented below (click on the image to see a larger version):

  • Northern Cardinal
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Yellow Rumped Warbler
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • White Throated Sparrow
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • Song Sparrow

Note: An annotated checklist of the birds of the GNA, incorporating data from the West Chester Bird Club in addition to data from Dr. Auld and other researchers, is available on Digital Commons.


Generally speaking, mammals have only been studied informally at the GNA.  Nevertheless, the white-tailed deer is one of the most commonly encountered animals at the GNA (perhaps second only to deer ticks).

Below are images of some of the frequently encountered mammals of the GNA (click on the image to see a larger version).  You can also view a video of red fox kits at the GNA.

  • Cottontail Rabbit (Sylvilagus floridanus)
  • White-tailed Deer
  • Eastern Gray Squirrel
  • Raccoon


NOTE: The GNA website is a work in progress. Please check back as we continue to update this part of the site.