I can’t believe I already have to write this goodbye post; it seems like just yesterday this crew was starting out, learning what it takes to be a well-oiled habitat restoration machine. Like previous years, our natural areas stewardship team has picked and sprayed its waythrough garlic mustard, crown vetch, swallow-wort, a multitude of invasive shrubs, bittersweet, and Phragmites. To top it all off each person has written several amazing blog posts about topics like golden oyster mushrooms, Blanding’s turtles, cow parsnip, and fens. We were able to accomplish so much this summer. Without their help the parks wouldn’t look as good as they do now!
Cassie returned to Northern Michigan University where she is pursuing her bachelor’s degree in fisheries and wildlife management. Emma returned to Ohio University to continue her bachelor’s degree in field ecology with a certification in environmental studies. Finally, Camryn is exploring opportunities to continue her career in the field of ecology.
Their curiosity, infectious positivity, and love of nature were greatly appreciated this summer! The effects that they have had on our parks will be seen for years to come. We wish them the best of luck in their next endeavors. We will miss you guys!
Welcome to the final post in this series! In the first post, we discussed the unique geological processes that form prairie fens. Then in the second post, we presented plant species that we can use to discover prairie fen habitats. Lastly, we will be discussing the threats prairie fens face, what we are doing on-site, and why our efforts are so important.
My time at the parks has come to a close. Having arrived in the early spring and leaving in the early fall, I have witnessed lots of change. I followed the life stages of plants as they transitioned through the seasons. From emergence to bloom to death, I got to be a part of it all. Just as amazing, this was the first position where I was able to actually see the results of our stewardship efforts.
I personally have felt the most fulfillment from working at the prairie fen off the Paint Creek Trail. Oakland Township’s portion of this fen is only about a half-acre, but the larger fen habitat extends up and down Paint Creek. Even with its small size and history of fragmentation and disturbance, our little fen patch is resilient. We hope to restore our park’s prairie fens to their full biodiversity capacity.
Threats and restoration
Our Paint Creek Heritage Area – Fen can be used as a case study of the major threats these natural communities face. Our fen was once a part of a larger wetland complex extending to its south and west, but the connections to this wetland and the surrounding uplands have been damaged over time. Due to the parcel’s small size, there is little buffering it from encroaching development. The smaller a site, the more vulnerable it may be to changes in the surrounding landscape and threats. These threats mainly include a lack of fire, invasive species, nutrient pollution, and changes inhydrology.
Just like our oak lands and prairies, thesuppression of fire on the landscape and the removal of indigenous land management practices have changed the composition of our prairie fen. The loss of fire has compacted the sedge meadow zone of the fen while increasing the woody zone (check out the previous post to learn more about fen vegetation zones).
Interestingly, the majority of our fire-dependent landscapes in Michigan that have held on after European colonization have been along railroads. In the late 19th century a railroad was built on what is now the Paint Creek Trail, cutting right through the fen. As mentioned in Cam Mannino’s previous blog post, fires sparked by passing trains spread into the surrounding landscape, maintaining natural communities like oak savanna, prairie, and prairie fen.
With the decommissioning of the railroad in the late 1970s, we now need prescribed fires to maintain the integrity of the prairie fen. We try to use controlled burns every 3-5 years to preserve the remnant prairie fen. The burns control invasive woody shrubs and remove dead stalks of Phragmites and invasive cattails after treatment. In addition, fire encourages plants to bloom more profusely and allows seeds of fen plants to germinate. The last controlled burn at the site occurred in 2019.
Invasive species may proliferate due to problems, like fire suppression, nutrient pollution, or hydrology changes. Often, though, invasive species both exacerbate these problems and create new issues of their own. Both invasive cattails and Phragmites grow more vigorously in wetlands with lots of nutrients. The dense stands of Phragmites and cattail, and the thick layers of dead thatch that accumulate, crowd out fen plants. Invasive woody shrubs like glossy buckthorn and common buckthorn often invade fens that have dried out due to hydrology changes that result from building a trail, berm, or road through a fen, fo example. However, these invasive shrubs can also change conditions in a fen to facilitate their own invasion.
When our Paint Creek Heritage Area – Fen was acquired over a decade ago, large areas had already been encroached by invasive woody shrubs, narrow-leaved cattails, and Phragmites. We have prioritized saving the core area of our fen by controlling invasive Phragmites and cattails over the last five years. Fen plants like shrubby cinquefoil, Kalm’s lobelia, and grass-of-Parnassus are growing again in areas that used to be dense Phragmites or cattails.
Now we’re starting to work on the invasive shrubs that are spreading into the fen from the edges. In one area glossy buckthorn shaded out a nice Grass-of-Parnassus patch. This year the stewardship crew started clearing the glossy buckthorn so it may return.
Our fen-specialist plants are adapted to growing in alkaline, low-nutrient environments. Increased nutrient inputs from farm runoff, lawn fertilizer, leaky septic tanks, or deposited from the atmosphere through rainfall really change the function of a prairie fen by favoring more generalist wetland plants and invasive plants that can take advantage of increased nutrient levels. Left unchecked, Phragmites, invasive cattails, reed canary grass, and purple loosestrife that like high nutrient levels often grow in dense stands with no other plants, patches that we describe as “monocultures.”
We often can’t address past or ongoing nutrient pollution issues directly if they happen off our property, so try to limit the damage from high nutrient levels. The last three years the stewardship crew has been working at selectively treating narrow leaf cattail stands. To learn more about how this treatment is done, check out a past blog post. I have hailed it as being one of the most taxing yet most rewarding stewardship tasks. I know that each treatment causes the cattails to shrink away and reveal more prairie fen habitat.
Change in Hydrology
The steady supply of cold, calcium, and magnesium-rich water in fens really is their lifeblood. Unfortunately, many property owners don’t realize how special fens are and permanently damaged them by digging ponds. In addition to scooping up valuable fen, digging ponds lowers the water table by creating a low spot in the wetland where water can collect. This creates drier areas that become establishment hotspots for invasive species like glossy buckthorn and other invasive shrubs.
Other changes can affect fen hydrology directly or indirectly. In the past, many fens were dried out by the installation of drain tiles and ditches to “improve” them for agriculture. Building roads, driveways, and trails disrupt the flow of water through a fen by acting like a dam, creating wetter conditions above and drier conditions below. Extracting water with wells for irrigation or other uses can also deplete aquifers that feed fens. It is critical that we partner with surrounding landowners to protect the water that charges the prairie fen.
Why Put In the Effort?
Although our fen is small, it has many high-quality specialist plant species present. Fen ecosystems also support a plethora of rare insect and animal species. In fact, several insect species rely entirely on prairie fen communities and would go extinct without them. You can check out the rare plants and animals associated with prairie fens at Michigan Natural Features Inventory (MNFI).
With our fen off the Paint Creek Trail, it only becomes increasingly difficult to buffer it from the effects of habitat fragmentation. This is especially true for prairie fens, as they often blend into surrounding uplands, wetlands, and bodies of water. However, even in the face of fragmentation, species may be able to persist if they can move between small high-quality parcels. As you might imagine, this may be more difficult for a slow-moving species like a turtle than it is for a flying insect like a butterfly.
A restored prairie fen right next to the Paint Creek Trail is also an excellent educational opportunity for trail users. Since it is only half an acre, the site is manageable and able to show the significance of our stewardship work. As with any restoration project, it is imperative that objectives are well-defined. In the case of thePaint Creek Heritage Area, our team is working to maintain high-quality habitat that trail users may be able to see and learn from. With our invasive shrub removal efforts near the trail, we hope the prairie fen will become more visible to folks passing by. We also hope that other township residents and neighboring properties join us as prairie fen stewards. The more we protect the surrounding area, and the more we get people involved to protect our fen, the greater the impact of our little half acre will have.
Each Action Makes a Difference
Stewardship work is often laborious and ceaselessly repetitive. The blood, sweat, and tears our stewardship crew spent at the half-acre fen parcel have been rewarded time and again by our encounters with fen dwellers. Whether it is the noisy flush of a spooked woodcock or the silent presence of a butterfly, visits to the fen never felt lonesome. While treating our last group of narrow-leaf cattail for the season, fellow steward Cassie spotted a baby Blanding’s turtle. After she set the baby down, she turned to me and exclaimed how happy she was to have seen that turtle. We had been selectively hand-wicking cattails all morning. We were tired and hungry for lunch. But after releasing the prehistoric baby back into a pool of groundwater, we continued our tedious task with newfound ambition. Our work was making a difference.
On a cool, cloudy afternoon earlier this summer, we stewards hunted for garlic mustard in the marshy woods of Charles Ilsley Park. The air was crisp, and I could feel the wind brushing my back as I walked. I kept my eyes peeled for the biennial invasive, doing my best to contribute to ecological wellness. That was when something unusual caught my eye. I stumbled upon a wet, decaying log with fungal clusters along its back. After asking some identification questions, I found that this fungus was none other than the Golden Oyster Mushroom (Pleurotus citrinopileatus).
How interesting! Each individual mushroom had a slightly different cap and shape despite being in the same cluster. The subjects in each cluster proudly displayed their bright yellow caps, earning this oyster mushroom its name.
Mushrooms Escaped from Cultivation
The golden oyster, or yellow oyster, mushroom originated in the woodlands of Russia, Japan, and Northern China, where it enjoys cool, shady woodland areas. The golden oyster thrives on decaying wood, especially elm, but is capable of growing on several substrates. Thanks to the variety of culinary and medicinal uses, the fungi has long been cultivated across Asia, and is now widely grown in the United States.
The joys of farming golden oyster fungi had consequences, though. According to Andi Bruce, a professional mycologist, the golden oyster mushroom escaped cultivation and made its way into natural habitats, the first known cultivated fungus to do so. As far as we know, their pale, pink spores are easily spread by the longhorn beetle, Callipogon relictus.
Learning About Golden Oyster Mushrooms
The golden oyster mushroom made its first appearance in 2012, and has now been found in several states, including Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Iowa. What will be impacted by this nonnative fungus? Or will anything be impacted at all? Only time will tell. On a positive note, while further research is needed, the golden oyster might have use absorbing toxins in the environment such as oil spills and wastewater. Maybe some good can come out of these chewy, fragile mushrooms.
Do the unknowns of the golden oyster mushroom shake you? Do you want to unravel golden information on this record-breaking fungi? Citizen scientists can help by taking photographs of specimens they’ve come across and posting them to iNaturalist! The Osmundson Lab from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse is continuing to accept samples for future research. If you want to take a step further in future research contributions, consider submitting a live sample. Instructions can be found here.
What a mystery this fungus is! It will be exciting to learn more about the golden oyster mushroom as we learn more about its spread and ecology in North America. Who knows what else will unfold? The world is such a wonderful place full of secrets waiting to be discovered, a world beyond internet and textbooks!
When taking a stroll in one of our beautiful parks, ask yourself, “What can I learn on this path today?” Perhaps on a morning walk through Bear Creek Nature Park, you might notice how beautiful bee balm splashes the fields in purple swaths. As you take in the view, a refreshing smell may hit your nose. With further exploration you may find out it was none other than bee balm itself, giving you a refreshing aroma as a “thank you” for enjoying nature’s beauty. Maybe you’ll walk on Paint Creek Trail and hear a faint rustling in the tall grasses. In the brief moment of asking yourself, “What was that sound?”, an innocent fawn may race across the wet prairie, with its spots disappearing as quickly as its sound.
Nature is so beautiful and mysterious, with so much to admire and understand. Don’t just walk in the parks. Take time to admire blue birds in the sky, or milkweed waving to monarch butterflies. Take a moment to appreciate sensitive ferns and lupines, flourishing in the soils they stand in. When exploring our parks, your observance may lead to discoveries!
Marquette’s Migration and the Blue-Spotted Salamander Surveys
My friends and I carefully tip-toed on the closed, wet road of Peter White Drive in Presque Isle Park in Marquette, Michigan on a rainy spring night. The air was crisp, filled with bellows of cheerful people of the Marquette community. The trees of Presque Isle Park surrounded the paved road, allowing the small creatures who travel over the pavement a sense of safety and peace when they make it to the other side.
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to conduct blue-spotted salamander surveys in Marquette. These adorable, tiny amphibians are painted with what looks like flecks of blue sky scattered along their dark bodies. Blue-spotted salamanders are shy creatures that awake to the rising moon. They inhabit forested areas and are most commonly found at vernal pools in spring. Unlike other salamanders, the blue-spotted salamanders do not lay eggs in clumps, but rather with individual eggs flickered amongst leaves and sticks on the bottom of a vernal pool.
The road closure in Presque Isle Park begins at the end of March and continues until the end of April each year, allowing amphibians to safely cross the street. Rainy weather, and 35-45 degree temperatures provide further inspiration for several salamanders, toads, and frogs to continue their travels to the vernal pools. One perfect, rainy night, my good friends and I counted 112 blue-spotted salamanders and two wood frogs!
This migration makes local news and is a huge opportunity to participate in citizen science! Thanks to an evening, annual road closure in Presque Isle Park, the blue-spotted salamanders can safely travel from their burrows to vernal pools, where they lay their eggs in the same pool they were born in. If you’re looking for an evening adventure, I highly recommend joining Marquette’s blue-spotted salamander surveys. Just watch your step!
Salamanders andVernal Pools Throughout Michigan
Marquette is a long drive from southeast Michigan. Fortunately, Oakland Township has plenty of vernal pools bursting with life. You can travel just 10 minutes from home to witness these wondrous habitats found in our parks.
Vernal pools are temporary ponds that are formed by the melting of winter snow or early spring rains. They are a true sign of spring! Vernal pools- or vernal ponds (“vernal” meaning spring) – typically dry out by the end of the summer, but flow with biodiversity while they are present! These pools are temporary nurseries for amphibious offspring, made possible by the lack of predatory fish. While vernal pools thrive in the early spring, they can still be found throughout the parks in June. If you come across one, it is likely in its beginning stages of drying out. The vernal pools at this time of year, depending on their size, may have significantly less water in them compared to spring.
Vernal pools can be found throughout Oakland Township’s parks. Various species from frogs, fairy shrimp, and salamanders inhabit these ephemeral ponds! On a lovely hike through Bear Creek Nature Park, Charles Ilsley Park, or Cranberry Lake Park, you just might hear the bullfrog sing or see a peaceful wood duck floating on a vernal pool.
Why are Vernal Pools Important?
Vernal pools are important for forest ecosystem health. Not only are they a nursery for amphibians, they are a temporary source of food and water for numerous species such as raccoons, ducks, and egrets. They are often called the “Coral Reefs of Northeastern Forests” for their bursts of biodiversity, several species can be found here if you look a little closer into the water.
If you would like to get up close and personal with vernal pools, grab your bug spray and muck boots for Michigan’s Vernal Pool Patrol! This program allows community members to participate in community science to collect information on identifying, mapping, and monitoring vernal pools statewide. The Michigan Vernal Pool Database, where this information is submitted, can be used to guide management decisions on vernal pool conservation. After attending some training (held in early spring each year), you will be ready to contribute to the Michigan Vernal Pool Database! If this is something that interests you, follow this link to the Michigan Vernal Pool Patrol website.
If you ever see a vernal pool, consider taking a moment to enjoy its beauty and small wetland critters. Vernal pools can teach us to enjoy the little things in life, and appreciate them while they are still here with us. Yes, life gets busy, we live in a world that requires us to always be on the move. But by living this way, we just might forget about the little things. Tell your friends and family you love them, take your dog out for a walk, buy that stranger in the coffee shop their latte. All it takes are the little things to make someone’s day.
We’re excited to welcome our 2022 seasonal stewardship crew!Camryn Brent, Cassie Stitzman, and Emma Campbell joined us in the last few weeks and will be out in the parks doing much-needed ecological restoration work until the end of the summer. This week Emma Campbell shares her introduction. We are inspired by her lifelong interest in plants and ecology! Help us welcome her to Oakland Township. -Ben
My name is Emma Campbell and I am thrilled to be working as a land stewardship technician this summer. I am a born and raised Ohioan. For the past four years I have lived a little over five hours south of Oakland Township, in Athens, Ohio. There I am a student at Ohio University and will be graduating with my Bachelor’s in Field Ecology and a certificate in Environmental Studies in December of this year.
Taking a needed snack break at a campsite along the Zaleski State Forest backpacking trail.
I have had the great privilege of being born into an outdoorsy family. Spending summers in the panhandle of Florida with my native landscaper grandfather instilled in me a love of plants.
This love of plants broadened into a passion for ecology in late high school and early college. In my sophomore year of high school I stumbled upon an article about Lycorma delicatula, the spotted lanternfly. L. delicatula is an invasive planthopper native to southeastern Asia that was first spotted in Berks County, Pennsylvania. This led me on a deep-dive of the effects of invasive species in ecosystems as a teenager. Over the course of several years I saw its rapid spread throughout the northeast, eventually making landfall in my home state in 2020. From there I learned to recognize invasive species everywhere I went. This further opened my eyes to the long-lasting effects of human disturbance.
As my interest in ecology unfolded, I became fascinated by the unseen. I am captivated by soil ecology and the importance of microbes in plant-soil interactions. Plant productivity is tied closely to the nutrients made ‘available’ to them by a whole host of soil microbes belonging to archaea, bacteria, and fungi. I am considering continuing my education and obtaining a graduate degree in soil sciences in the future.
At Ohio University I have worked as a research assistant on several species within the genus Lycopodiella. Plants within this genus are referred to as the bog clubmosses. As their name suggests, they commonly occupy bogs and wetland areas. My research involves collecting morphological data to identify hybrids. Several specimens that I have worked with were collected in southern Michigan region.
I am greatly looking forward to exploring natural areas in and around Oakland Township this summer. I am an avid hiker and backpacker. On many weekends throughout the summer you can find me donning a well-loved 1970’s aluminum frame backpacking pack passed down to me from my parents. I am planning a weekend backpacking trip to North Manitou Island later this summer. I would love any and all suggestions for Michigan trails before I head back south!
Since starting two weeks ago, I have already learned so much from my co-workers and fellow seasonal stewards. I am confident that I will come away from this season with expanded knowledge and a solidified appreciation for all things Michigan.