Species Spotlight: Fairy Shrimp

by Emma Kull, MNA Communications Intern

A vernal pool fills with water around the springtime, bringing new life. Here, a small crustacean hatches; a lesser known relative of the lobster.

This crustacean’s common name, fairy shrimp, is the perfect nod to its graceful demeanor in the water and its small, delicate body. These aquatic dancers glide through the water on their backs by slowly rippling their eleven pairs of legs to create propulsion. They vary in size but are typically around three quarters of an inch long.

Fairy shrimp photo courtesy Michigan Natural Features Inventory.

The fairy shrimp would not be able to survive without the protective habitat created by the emergence of vernal pools each year. Though the ephemeral nature of vernal pools makes them a safe place for fairy shrimp to live without fish predators, surviving in such impermanent conditions is no small task. Fortunately, fairy shrimp are well adapted to do just that.

Once their eggs hatch, fairy shrimp have relatively short life cycles, only about a few weeks, allowing them to age and usually reproduce within the short window provided by the pool. In the case that the vernal pool dries up too quickly for the fairy shrimp to reproduce, these clever crustaceans have a backup strategy. Each spring, only a segment of the fairy shrimp eggs that had been laid the previous year will hatch, leaving the rest to remain dormant for potentially several years. That means that the fairy shrimp population can continue to survive, even if the pool doesn’t fill with water one year.

The presence of fairy shrimp is a sign of a healthy ecosystem, as it is considered an indicator species to confirm the presence of a vernal pool; and is exciting to behold if you are lucky enough to witness it.

Spotted salamanders are another species that use vernal pools. Photo courtesy Michigan Natural Features Inventory.

As a lead partner of the Michigan Vernal Pools Partnership, the Michigan Nature Association is committed to protecting vernal pools for all of the species that use them at a number of our more than 180 Nature Sanctuaries throughout Michigan.

Protecting Wetlands

Wetland - Abby Pointer

Wetland. Photo: Abby Pointer.

By Abby Pointer, MNA Intern

We celebrated American Wetlands Month this May! Extremely productive ecosystems, wetlands can be found in all extremes, from the tropics to the tundra, on every continent except for Antarctica. A little closer to home, Michigan wetlands provide important habitat to many species of waterfowl and fish, which play a vital role in our recreation and tourism industry, as well as our economy.

A wetland is an area where water covers the soil and is present all year or for varying, yet predictable periods of time. Wetlands form for a variety of reasons, whether from a permanent body of water, precipitation, or seasonally from rain or snow. This soil, described as hydric from its saturated quality, becomes anaerobic, or without oxygen. Therefore, the bacteria that reside there cannot use oxygen to respire, and use carbon or nitrogen, giving wetlands a high concentration of these particular molecules to create a unique ecosystem.

sandhill crane - steven kahl

Sandhill Crane. Photo: Steven Kahl.

This hydrology, the water saturation of the soil, of wetlands is a major factor in determining the type of soil that develops and the organisms that the environment can support. Since wetlands are versatile ecosystems, many types of both terrestrial and aquatic organisms can live there. In Michigan wetlands, you are likely to see a landscape covered in various sedges and rushes, and in the spring little mallard broods, perched Bobolinks, as well as a booming population of sandhill cranes!

These waterfowl, among many others, find sanctuary in wetlands, as they provide habitat and food for each year’s new brood of ducklings as well as a “rest stop” for migratory birds. About one-third of the United State’s endangered species call wetlands their home, from the American crocodile to many types of orchids! Wetlands also serve an important ecological purpose, such as acting as a buffer to prevent pollution from entering the water system, stopping widespread flooding and holding those excessive flood waters, and controlling erosion along our beautiful Michigan shoreline.

tile-drainage - Matt Miller

Wetland tiling. Photo: Matt Miller.

Unfortunately, wetlands are becoming increasingly rare due to human actions. Between filling and draining to make room for land for agriculture or development, building dams or dikes, and excessive logging, these detrimental actions have given rise to programs to restore these endangered ecosystems.

Michigan is one of only two states to have a federal wetlands program and is working toward continual restoration of these lands. Methods involve preventing the aforementioned human actions as well as taking measures to remove the tiling that drains water. This special attention from MNA, MDNR, DEQ, and other conservation groups will help guarantee that we can continue to enjoy the beauty and habitat our important wetlands provide!

Expanding Protection at Carlton Lake Wetlands

Last year MNA added 120 acres to Carlton Lake Wetlands Nature Sanctuary in Chippewa County. This addition solved MNA’s most serious and longstanding sanctuary access issue! Previously, access to this sanctuary was a long and cumbersome trek starting with a rugged drive, followed by a lengthy canoe ride to finally reach the entrance of the sanctuary. Now guests can access the sanctuary year-round on foot. Thanks to this land acquisition, Carlton Lake Wetlands Nature Sanctuary expanded to 520 acres!
S. Laier
While valuable as an access acquisition in its own right, the parcel is significant as part of the overall wetland complex. The wetlands are largely comprised of emergent and submergent marsh, northern shrub thicket, and rich conifer swamp. Some of the uplands include boreal forest and mesic northern forest. Northern wet meadow and northern fen is also found on the Carlton Lake Wetlands addition. The property is very promising to see Calypso orchids and other unique plants.

Due to the large scale of this wetland complex and its location within the migratory flyway between the Straits of Mackinac and mainland Canada, a great diversity of birds have been seen using this sanctuary. This addition provides significant wetland habitat utilized by secretive marsh birds and flocks of migratory waterfowl, including black tern, sedge wren, blackburnian warbler, and spotted sandpiper. The Carlton Lake Wetlands Nature Sanctuary addition also hosts beaver, bear, large canids, deer, and grouse populations.

This property was purchased using the MNA Revolving Fund, established to allow MNA to respond quickly when a new piece of land like this appears on the market. Donate now to replenish the Fund and protect this valuable wetland!
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Eradicating Invasive Phragmites

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

Seedheads near water. Photo via MNA archives.

Seedheads near water. Photo via MNA archives.

A straw-like plant ranging from 6-13 feet in height may seem quite harmless to come across. Yet, this plant, known as Phragmites, is an invasive species threatening the natural flora of Michigan.

Phragmites is the most common invasive plant species in Michigan.

Phragmites has a tall stalk with blades along its shaft and a red-colored seedhead that can fade to a straw-like color with age. Phragmites is usually found in wetland habitats like marshes and swamps.

This invasive species poses alarming impacts on biodiversity because it grows tall and in dense stands, squelching out any native plant and animal life by blocking sunlight and taking up space. Animals find it difficult to make habitats because of the density of the stands and find they have reduced vegetation to eat.

A thick Phragmites stand. Photo via MNA archives.

A thick Phragmites stand. Photo via MNA archives.

Phragmites obstructs views and can make it difficult for people to enjoy nature because of the difficulty of traveling through the thick reeds to get to bodies of water. It also can negatively affect navigation on highways and waterways because of its height.  Phragmites has a rapid growth rate and are prone to catching and spreading fires quickly, killing natural vegetation around it and posing threat to homes and buildings nearby.

Learn how to identify invasive species like Phragmites by clicking here.

Two methods of eliminating invasive Phragmites are prescribed burns and the use of herbicides. Prescribed burns are controlled fires that kill the invasive species, allowing a chance for native vegetation to grow. Herbicides must always be used carefully and some areas even require permits before use. Mowing is recommended post-chemical treatment.