One Cubic Foot

Dr. David Liittschwager, a contributing photographer to National Geographic, and his team implemented the One Cubic Foot concept in the Genesee River near Turning Point Park almost two years ago. It changed our thinking about a river that was once ranked among the most polluted in America by delivering a portrait of a healthy ecosystem that is being brought back to life.

The project took place in August, 2015 and his photography and findings were presented in an exhibition at the Rochester Contemporary Art Center from February 5 through March 13, 2016. Dr. Liittschwager had previously conducted this One Cubic Foot research in about 20 locations, starting in New York City’s Central Park in 2007 and including South Africa, Costa Rica, and French Polynesia in the Pacific Ocean. He is the author of A World in One Cubic Foot: Portraits of Biodiversity and numerous books containing photography of endangered plants and animals.

Dr. David Liittschwager placed in the Genesee, a frame in the form of a one-foot cube, made of quarter-inch stainless steel rod. He used a GoPro camera mounted nearby to provide visual documentation of passing species. The frame also had a fine-mesh net to capture organisms as they floated through the cube.

The project found 126 species in the Genesee River. It collected 216 DNA barcoding examples and submitted 17 new examples, previously not vouchered, into the Barcode of Life Data System database for the acquisition, storage, analysis and publication of DNA barcode records. These examples were sent to the Smithsonian for testing.

The Genesee River is making a clear comeback to health. American river otters are now present in the areas north of the Lower Falls. In addition, lake sturgeon, which were plentiful in the 1900s are now showing rebounding numbers. Since 2003, 5,400 lake sturgeon have been stocked, creating a thriving, self-sustaining population. Dawn Dittman, USGS research ecologist, a Democrat and Chronicle article dated Oct. 23, 2016, said, “The successful reintroduction will mean that the Genesee River’s health is improving.”

Photo by Liittschwager

Thanks to the Seneca Park Zoo and many community partners for bringing the focus on biodiversity to Rochester through this amazing scientific research. It is a high-profile example of using biodiversity to determine the quality of the eco-system these plants and animals were living in. And, it is an action that sends a strong message of advocacy toward the recovery of the Genesee River and solidarity with the world in terms of awareness of water quality.

The One Cubic Foot project is less than two years old, but considering it with a sense of history, it is important as a foundation of pride in a new future for the Lower Falls community.

Map Treefrog, Ecuador, courtesy of David Liittschwager

Dr. David Liittschwager

An initiative of the Seneca Park Zoo Society in the Genesee River

(Click on images for a larger view.)