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St. Clair Delta Lakeplain Prairie and Oak Savanna Ecosystem Project:
   Rare Plant and Insect Surveys 2000

St. Clair River Lakeplain and Oak Savanna Project

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Lakeplain prairie formed a significant part of the natural landscape of southern Lower Michigan at the time of European settlement (Comer et al. 1995). Over 80% of historical lakeplain prairie acreage was found in the southeast region of the state, especially in the counties of Monroe, Wayne, and St. Clair. The amount of lakeplain prairie has decreased greatly as a result of conversion of prairie to agriculture, in addition to the suppression of natural ecosystem processes such as wildfire and hydrological fluctuations, and, more recently, conversion of lands to residential and commercial development. At present the amount of lakeplain prairie is approximately 1000 acres, comprising only 1/2 of 1 percent of the original prairie present at the time of settlement and scattered throughout the southern Lower Peninsula of Michigan (Comer et al. 1995). Even though much of the historical lakeplain prairie community of Michigan has been severely fragmented and degraded, high quality remnants can be found that still retain a good representation of native plant diversity and likely insect species. Rare plant species historically known from lakeplain prairies have been documented in some of the highest quality remnants and there is similar potential for rare insect populations associated with this community to persist as well. In order to protect these remaining remnants and their associated rarities, it will be important to assess where they occur and design and implement management strategies that will maximize the conservation of the system as a whole, including multiple rare species. This is especially critical if we are to conserve the rarities associated with these communities. Historically, fire functioned to impede or reduce the establishment of woody plants in these systems, that would otherwise result in the succession from lakeplain prairie to a different community type. Fire also functioned to create germination sites, release nutrients, and maintain the structure and diversity of the open prairies.

Lakeplain prairie formed a significant part of the natural landscape of southern Lower Michigan at the time of European settlement (Comer et al. 1995). Over 80% of historical lakeplain prairie acreage was found in the southeast region of the state, especially in the counties of Monroe, Wayne, and St. Clair. The amount of lakeplain prairie has decreased greatly as a result of conversion of prairie to agriculture, in addition to the suppression of natural ecosystem processes such as wildfire and hydrological fluctuations, and, more recently, conversion of lands to residential and commercial development. At present the amount of lakeplain prairie is approximately 1000 acres, comprising only 1/2 of 1 percent of the original prairie present at the time of settlement and scattered throughout the southern Lower Peninsula of Michigan (Comer et al. 1995). Even though much of the historical lakeplain prairie community of Michigan has been severely fragmented and degraded, high quality remnants can be found that still retain a good representation of native plant diversity and likely insect species. Rare plant species historically known from lakeplain prairies have been documented in some of the highest quality remnants and there is similar potential for rare insect populations associated with this community to persist as well. In order to protect these remaining remnants and their associated rarities, it will be important to assess where they occur and design and implement management strategies that will maximize the conservation of the system as a whole, including multiple rare species. This is especially critical if we are to conserve the rarities associated with these communities. Historically, fire functioned to impede or reduce the establishment of woody plants in these systems, that would otherwise result in the succession from lakeplain prairie to a different community type. Fire also functioned to create germination sites, release nutrients, and maintain the structure and diversity of the open prairies.

Restoration efforts are currently underway in several lakeplain prairie and oak savanna remnants in southern Michigan focusing primarily on the mechanical removal of woody vegetation and re-introduction of fire as a natural ecological process (Albert et al. 1996). While such management efforts seem to have resulted in fairly good recovery of the vegetation of lakeplain prairie communities, it is important to remember that management activities rarely impact all species in the same way. For example, some insects are not fire tolerant during any part of their life cycle, thus the use of prescribed fire must be carefully considered and implemented when such insects are a conservation target. Without careful planning and the use of information on species' abundance and distribution, burning regimes designed to enhance native plant species may lead to the extirpation of rare or habitat-restricted insect species. It will be important with these and future restoration projects, to consider the impact of specific management activities on multiple conservation targets and plan accordingly. Detailed baseline data and subsequent monitoring are essential for evaluating the impact of specific management activities on species of concern. It is essential that such studies be undertaken in order to inform future management decisions. Although systematic inventories of lakeplain prairie remnants in Michigan were conducted by Michigan Natural Features Inventory from 1994 through 1996, much of this work was focused on identifying remnant prairies within their historically known distribution and documenting occurrences of rare plant species. Much less emphasis was placed on the identification of insect populations, especially in southern Lower Michigan, owing to the scope of this statewide study. Although these inventories successfully identified numerous, if not most of the best prairie remnants in the state, as well as numerous rare plant occurrences, as well as selected rare insect occurrences, the detailed baseline data necessary to conduct subsequent monitoring was either lacking or incomplete. This was the case for the St. Clair Delta Region in southeastern Lower Michigan, where significant lakeplain prairie remnants, rare plant and rare insect occurrences were identified. The current study was undertaken to establish baseline data on the number, location, and status of rare plant and insect species in Algonac State Park and targeted adjacent sites within the St. Clair Delta region. Extensive efforts are currently underway to restore and maintain prairie within the park. Further inventories were necessary in order to be better able to assess impacts resulting from active lakeplain prairie management, which includes prescribed burning and mechanical removal of woody plant species. Our inventories were also conducted to provide information regarding the success of these initial large-scale restoration activities such that future management can be more optimally directed.

 

 

 
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