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Ecological setting

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The location and habitat of the VCU Rice Rivers Center gives the 494-acre field lab plenty of flora and fauna to incorporate into its research and educational programs. The center’s ecology offers significant opportunities to explore human and environmental interactions.

The James River is the main artery of the center’s aquatic and terrestrial habitats, which include tidal and nontidal wetlands, and vernal pools. One of the country’s most historic rivers, the James drains nearly a quarter of the state’s land area, making it the Chesapeake Bay’s second-largest tributary.

Located on the lower James, the center is home to tidal freshwater ecosystems, one of the least studied riverine habitats in the world. This unique ecotone between inland and coastal regions supports the transitional fauna of marine, estuarine and freshwater species.

This section of the river supports the largest nesting population of eagles in the eastern U.S., one reason the Audubon Society designated it as the Lower James River Important Birding Area.

White oaks and upland hardwoods grow on most of the land, but there’s also a loblolly pine forest and open meadow. Under the site is a riverine geologic formation known as the Shirley Formation, known for its deposits of sand, gravel, silt, clay and peat.

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