Native Species Return to a Fen Along the Kalamazoo River

Project Summary: By removing invasive species from a wetland fen outside of Kalamazoo, Mich., native plants returned on their own and ecosystem health improved, attracting native wildlife such as butterflies, snakes and turtles.

Project name: Kalamazoo Fen Restoration

Anna Kornoelje, a biologist from the Kalamazoo Nature Center, surveys species in the fen habitat. Understanding which species are thriving in the restored fen will help future restoration efforts. Photo courtesy of the Kalamazoo Nature Center.

Anna Kornoelje, a biologist from the Kalamazoo Nature Center, surveys species in the fen habitat. Understanding which species are thriving in the restored fen will help future restoration efforts. Photo courtesy of the Kalamazoo Nature Center.

Location: Kalamazoo, Michigan

Description: The Kalamazoo River meanders through the southern lower peninsula of Michigan and eventually makes its way to Lake Michigan. Around the town of Kalamazoo, the river is periodically lined with fens—biologically diverse wetland areas, filled with unusual, rare, and sometimes endangered species. Fens help filter and slow water before it enters the Kalamazoo River, helping to keep this important Lake Michigan tributary healthy. In fact, fens are a distinct type of wetland, characterized by alkaline water, turned that way as the water soaks into the calcium-rich bedrock. Plants that thrive with the minerals found in the alkaline water are distinct—specific kinds of mosses, grasses, and even some carnivorous plants. In turn, these distinct plants support a diverse community of wildlife. Many fens throughout the Great Lakes, like other kinds of wetlands in the region, have been decimated by invasive species. Woody plants like trees or shrubs can be especially harmful for fens, which are naturally populated with short, leafy plants that have trouble competing with taller plants for light and resources. When woody invasive plants, like buckthorn and autumn olive, invade a fen they stop native plants from growing and harm the native wildlife. Other, smaller invasive species are problematic for fens as well; plants like multiflora rose, cattails, and garlic mustard also crowd out native species.

Michigan lilies, pictured here, have returned to the fen environment now that invasive species have been removed. Photo courtesy of the Kalamazoo Nature Center.

Michigan lilies, pictured here, have returned to the fen environment now that invasive species have been removed. Photo courtesy of the Kalamazoo Nature Center.

The fens that line the Kalamazoo River around Kalamazoo, Mich., have been largely destroyed by invasive species, but are now benefitting from federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding. The Kalamazoo River Nature Center has used their Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funds for a very straight-forward project that has had a big impact on the health of their fens: removing invasive plants, which has allowed native plants to return to the fen on their own. By exposing the soil and the native seeds laying dormant in the dirt, the native plant community has regenerated. The restoration funding has allowed the Nature Center to keep the invasive species out of the fen for several years, while also giving biologists an opportunity to monitor the progress of the native plants.

Approximate cost of the project: $196,000 from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative

Resource challenges addressed: degraded fen environment, invasive species, diminished habitat for native fen species

The fen environment after restoration. Once invasive species were removed from the fen, native species in the seed bank began to fill in the open areas, creating a natural environment that has attracted native wildlife such as turtles, snakes and butterflies. Photo courtesy of the Kalamazoo Nature Center.

The fen environment after restoration. Once invasive species were removed from the fen, native species in the seed bank began to fill in the open areas, creating a natural environment that has attracted native wildlife such as turtles, snakes and butterflies. Photo courtesy of the Kalamazoo Nature Center.

Key partners (public and private): Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, Kalamazoo Nature Center, Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy, Pierce Cedar Creek Institute, and Fort Custer Training Center

Types of jobs created: plant biologists, volunteers, general laborers

Results and accomplishments: By removing invasive species that had blanketed the fen, native species were able to return, largely on their own. The seeds in the soil, known as the seed bank, were able to stay dormant for many years until they had enough sun and water for them to germinate. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grant has allowed the Kalamazoo Nature Center to keep the invasive species at bay while also studying the progress of the recovering native plant community. Already, native species like snakes, box turtles, and many species of butterfly are returning to the area. Like other types of wetlands, these restored fens will help filter and slow water, helping the Kalamazoo River stay healthy.

Websitehttp://www.naturecenter.org/

Originally published on August 27, 2014

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