Biodiversity Patterns and Conservation in the Hackensack Meadowlands, New Jersey

by Erik Kiviat and Kristi MacDonald

¹Hudsonia Ltd., P.O. Box 5000, Annandale, NY 12504
²Ecology and Evolution Program, Rutgers University, 1 College Farm Road, New Brunswick, NJ 08901


The 8,300 hectares (roughly 20,500 acres) of wetlands, uplands, and developed areas of the Hackensack Meadowlands in northeastern New Jersey are a major urban biodiversity reservoir in the New York metropolitan region. Species documented so far include 260-plus birds (33 of which are state-listed as endangered, threatened, or declining), 22 mammals, 51-plus fishes, 51 bees, and 420 plants. Wetlands make up 3,200 hectares (roughly 7,800 acres) of the Meadowlands, and they include brackish and freshwater marshes dominated by the common reed (Phragmites australis) as well as cordgrass (Spartina) marshes and hardwood swamps. Upland habitats are found on bedrock hills and wetland fill. The mix of wetlands and uplands gives rise to a diversity of plant and animal life. The marshes and swamps of the Meadowlands provide critical habitat for many species, and several species also rely on the upland habitat types. Relatively well-studied groups, such as birds and fishes, have received the most attention from local conservation planners. However, other, poorly studied organisms (invertebrates, for example) also contribute to the biodiversity value of the Meadowlands and should be taken into account. Conservation planners should also consider the constraints and opportunities imposed by the urban context of the Meadowlands, especially with regard to the management of habitats dominated by Phragmites. Factors associated with urbanization, such as sediment contamination, as well as the presence of many common and rare species in reed marshes, indicate that alteration rather than eradication of reed stands should be considered. In addition to a continued focus on wetlands, successful maintenance and enhancement of biodiversity in the Meadowlands will require attention to upland habitats, including some that are artificial. Principles of biodiversity conservation in the Meadowlands are broadly applicable to large urban wetlands elsewhere.

Keywords: Biodiversity; degraded wetlands; habitat management; Hackensack Meadowlands, New Jersey; Phragmites; urban wildlife; wetland restoration