Michigan's Natural Communities

Lakeplain Wet-mesic Prairie

State Rank: S1

Photo by Dennis A. Albert
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Overview

Lakeplain wet-mesic prairie is a species-rich, lowland prairie community that occurs on moist, level, seasonally inundated glacial lakeplains of the Great Lakes. Seasonal flooding, cyclic changes in Great Lakes water levels, beaver flooding, and fire historically maintained the species composition and community structure of lakeplain wet-mesic prairies.

Landscape Context

Lakeplain wet-mesic prairie occurs on several glacial features of the lakeplain, including level, sandy outwash, sandy lakeplains, and deposits of dune sand on silt or clay glacial lakeplains. The community is most commonly associated with inland portions of lakeplains, but is also found along low beach ridges near the Saginaw Bay shoreline. Historically, these prairies occurred in a complex mosaic of lakeplain wet prairie, mesic sand prairie, lakeplain oak openings, wet-mesic flatwoods, and southern hardwood swamp.

Soils

Soils of this natural community are fine-textured, slightly acid to moderately alkaline sands, sandy loams, or silty clays with poor to moderate water-retaining capacity.

Natural Processes

Lakeplain prairies typically experience seasonal flooding and include small pockets that remain wet throughout the year. Glacial lakeplains that support wet-mesic prairies often have a clay layer positioned below one to three meters of highly permeable sand. The clay layer impedes drainage, resulting in temporary flooding in the winter and spring and drought in summer and fall. Extreme variation in soil moisture regime limits the establishment of woody vegetation. Lakeplain wet-mesic prairies are also affected by changes in Great Lakes water cycles that produce fluctuations in the water table.

Other factors that influence the development and maintenance of lakeplain wet-mesic prairies include beaver activity and periodic wildfire. Prolific beaver activity in the flat lakeplain landscape may have contributed to the extensive wet prairies that were known from pre-European settlement. The combination of accumulated organic material and drought conditions during the late growing season made lakeplain prairies prone to lightning- and Native American-induced wildfires.

Vegetation

The vegetation of lakeplain wet-mesic prairies is moderately dense with little exposed bare ground. Vegetation height averages one to two meters. The community is dominated by graminoids, but is extremely diverse, with as many as 200 plant species found within a single prairie remnant. Characteristic plants include big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), sedges (Carex spp.), switch grass (Panicum virgatum), little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans), Ohio goldenrod (Solidago ohioensis), Virginia mountain mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum), swamp betony (Pedicularis lanceolata), Riddell’s goldenrod (Solidago riddellii), marsh blazing star (Liatris spicata), colic root (Aletris farinosa), tall coreopsis (Coreopsis tripteris), and ironweed (Vernonia spp.).

Noteworthy Animals

Beaver can cause flooding that substantially alters wetland community structure, converting lowland shrub and forest systems to pond, emergent marsh, wet meadow, lakeplain wet prairie, and lakeplain wet-mesic prairie depending on landscape position, soils, and depth and duration of flooding.

Rare Plants

  • Asclepias hirtella (tall green milkweed, state threatened)
  • Asclepias purpurascens (purple milkweed, state special concern)
  • Asclepias sullivantii (Sullivant’s milkweed, state threatened)
  • Bartonia paniculata (panicled screw-stem, state threatened)
  • Carex frankii (Frank’s sedge, state special concern)
  • Eleocharis tricostata (three-ribbed spike-rush, state threatened)
  • Juncus brachycarpus (short-fruited rush, state threatened)
  • Juncus vaseyi (Vasey’s rush, state threatened)
  • Lactuca floridana (woodland lettuce, state threatened)
  • Lechea pulchella (Leggett’s pinweed, state threatened)
  • Ludwigia alternifolia (seedbox, state special concern)
  • Lycopodiella margueriteae (northern prostrate clubmoss, state special concern)
  • Lycopodiella subappressa (northern appressed bog clubmoss, state special concern)
  • Mimulus alatus (wing-stemmed monkey-flower, presumed extirpated from Michigan)
  • Oxalis violacea (violet wood-sorrel, state threatened)
  • Panicum longifolium (long-leaved panic-grass, state threatened)
  • Platanthera leucophaea (prairie fringed orchid, federal threatened and state endangered)
  • Potentilla paradoxa (sand cinquefoil, state threatened)
  • Rhexia mariana var. mariana (Maryland meadow-beauty, state special concern)
  • Rhexia virginica (meadow-beauty, state special concern)
  • Rhynchospora macrostachya (tall beak-rush, state special concern)
  • Rotala ramosior (tooth-cup, state special concern)
  • Scleria pauciflora (few-flowered nut-rush, state endangered)
  • Scleria reticularis (netted nut-rush, state threatened)
  • Scleria triglomerata (tall nut-rush, state special concern)
  • Sisyrinchium atlanticum (Atlantic blue-eyed-grass, state threatened)
  • Sisyrinchium farwellii (Farwell’s blue-eyed-grass, presumed extirpated from Michigan)
  • Spiranthes ochroleuca (yellow ladies’-tresses, state special concern)

Rare Animals

  • Ammodramus henslowii (Henslow’s sparrow, state threatened)
  • Ammodramus savannarum (grasshopper sparrow, state special concern)
  • Asio flammeus (short-eared owl, state endangered)
  • Botaurus lentiginosus (American bittern, state special concern)
  • Circus cyaneus (northern harrier, state threatened)
  • Clemmys guttata (spotted turtle, state threatened)
  • Dorydiella kansana (leafhopper, state special concern)
  • Elaphe vulpine gloydi (eastern fox snake, state threatened)
  • Flexamia delongi (leafhopper, state special concern)
  • Flexamia reflexus (leafhopper, state special concern)
  • Gastrocopta holzingeri (Lambda snaggletooth snail, state special concern)
  • Neoconocephalus lyrists (bog conehead, state special concern)
  • Neoconocephalus retusus (conehead grasshopper, state special concern)
  • Orchelimum concinnum (red-faced meadow katydid, state special concern)
  • Orchelimum delicatum (delicate meadow katydid, state special concern)
  • Orphulella pelidna (green desert grasshopper, state special concern)
  • Papaipema beeriana (blazing star borer, state special concern)
  • Phalaropus tricolor (Wilson’s phalarope, state special concern)
  • Rallus elegans (king rail, state endangered)
  • Spiza americana (dickcissel, state special concern)
  • Tyto alba (barn owl, state endangered)

Biodiversity Management Considerations

Since European settlement, there has been extensive loss and degradation of lakeplain wet-mesic prairies due to conversion to agriculture, residential and industrial development, alterations of groundwater hydrology, and fire suppression. It is estimated that less than 1% of the original community remains. Therefore, protection and restoration of existing prairie remnants is a top conservation priority.

Threats to remaining sites include hydrologic alteration, nutrient enrichment, siltation, fire suppression, tree and shrub encroachment, and destruction of upland buffers. Fire suppression and hydrologic alterations such as ditching and drain tiling promote shrub and tree invasion, which reduces graminoid cover and the fine fuels capable of carrying a fire. Invasive plants are favored by nutrient enrichment, fire suppression, and hydrologic alteration. Invasive species that threaten the diversity and community structure in lakeplain wet-mesic prairie include glossy buckthorn (Frangula alnus), common buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica), multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora), autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata), reed (Phragmites australis subsp. australis), reed canary grass (Phalaris arundinacea), narrow-leaved cat-tail (Typha angustifolia), hybrid cat-tail (Typha xglauca), and purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria). Prescribed fire, in conjunction with cutting and/or herbiciding of invasive species, should be considered to maintain the biodiversity of lowland grasslands. Some sites may require hydrologic restoration and efforts to restrict nutrient and sediment inputs. In addition, restoration of upland natural communities bordering lakeplain wet-mesic prairie occurrences should be conducted to improve hydrology and provide refugia for flood-intolerant species during periods of high water.

Variation

The difference in characteristic flora and fauna between coastal and inland occurrences of lakeplain wet-mesic prairie needs further description and assessment.

Similar Natural Communities

Lakeplain wet prairie, wet-mesic prairie, wet-mesic sand prairie, mesic sand prairie, and mesic prairie.

Relevant Literature

  • Albert, D.A., and M.A. Kost. 1998. Natural community abstract for lakeplain wet-mesic prairie. Michigan Natural Features Inventory, Lansing, MI. 4 pp.
  • Albert, D.A., D.L. Cuthrell, D.A. Hyde, J.T. Legge, M.R. Penskar, and M.L. Rabe. 1996. Sampling and management of lakeplain prairies in southern Lower Michigan. Michigan Natural Features Inventory, Lansing, MI. 93 pp.
  • Bakowsky, W., and J.L. Riley. 1992. A survey of the prairies and savannas of southern Ontario. Pp. 7-16 in Proceedings of the Thirteenth North American Prairie Conference: Spirit of the land, our prairie legacy, ed. R.G. Wickett, P.D. Lewis, A. Woodliffe, and P. Pratt. Department of Parks and Recreation, Windsor, Ontario, Canada. 262 pp.
  • Chapman, K.A. 1984. An ecological investigation of native grassland in southern Lower Michigan. M.A. thesis. Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI. 235 pp.
  • Chapman, K.A., and S. R. Crispin. 1982. Results of an aerial photo survey for prairie in the Saginaw Bay region. Michigan Natural Features Inventory, Lansing, MI.
  • Comer, P.J., D.A. Albert, H.A. Wells, B.L. Hart, J.B. Raab, D.L. Price, D.M. Kashian, R.A. Corner, and D.W. Schuen. 1995. Michigan’s presettlement vegetation, as interpreted from the General Land Office surveys 1816-1856. Michigan Natural Features Inventory, Lansing, MI. 76 pp.
  • Comer, P.J., W.A. MacKinnon, M.L. Rabe, D.L. Cuthrell, M.R. Penskar, and D.A. Albert. 1995. A survey of lakeplain prairie in Michigan. Michigan Natural Features Inventory, Lansing, MI. 232 pp.
  • Faber-Langendoen, D., and P.F. Maycock. 1987. Composition and soil-environment analysis of prairies on Walpole Island, southwestern Ontario. Canadian Journal of Botany 65: 2410-2419.
  • Faber-Langendoen, D., and P.F. Maycock. 1992. A vegetation analysis of tallgrass prairie in southern Ontario. Pp. 17-32 in Proceedings of the Thirteenth North American Prairie Conference: Spirit of the land, our prairie legacy, ed. R.G. Wickett, P.D. Lewis, A. Woodliffe, and P. Pratt. Department of Parks and Recreation, Windsor, Ontario, Canada. 262 pp.
  • Hayes, B.N. 1964. An ecological study of wet prairie on Harsens Island, Michigan. Michigan Botanist 3: 71-82.
  • Hubbard, B. 1888. Memorials of a half-century in Michigan and the Lake Region. G.P. Putnam’s Sons. Pp. 360-367.
  • Jones, C.L., and R.O. Kapp. 1972. Relationship of Bay County Michigan presettlement forest patterns to Indian cultures. Michigan Academician 5: 17-28.
  • Minc, L.D. 1995. Seasonal hydrology and species relationships in Lower Michigan’s lakeplain prairies. An analysis and report submitted to Michigan Natural Features Inventory. 89 pp.
  • Roberts, T.M., T. Robson, and P.J. Catling. 1977. Factors maintaining a disjunct community of Liatris spicata and other prairie species in Ontario, Canada. Canadian Journal of Botany 55: 593-605.
  • Rogers, C.M. 1966. A wet prairie community at Windsor, Ontario. Canadian Field Naturalist 80: 195-199.

For a full list of references used to create this description, please refer to the natural community abstract for lakeplain wet-mesic prairie.

More Information

Page Citation

  • Kost, M.A., D.A. Albert, J.G. Cohen, B.S. Slaughter, R.K. Schillo, C.R. Weber, and K.A. Chapman. 2007. Natural Communities of Michigan: Classification and Description. Michigan Natural Features Inventory, Report No. 2007-21, Lansing, MI.

Page updated on 11-26-2014