Dune Ecology

June 23, 2018


 

Kitchel Lindquist Hartger Dunes near Grand Haven Michigan and in Ferrysburg, Michigan

The high wooded dunes rise above the Grand River, as they have for several thousand years, a part of the landscape both residents and tourists in the Tri-Cities area enjoy.    For a closer look, people can follow a self-guided nature trail through the dunes.  On Earth Day, the community pitches in and picks up debris blown into the dunes by the winter winds.  It’s a favorite place for people whether they simply look at it as a familiar part of the landscape, or use it for walking or cross country skiing in the winter for it abounds in wildlife, grasses, flowers, and trees. It’s a good place to study the lessons of ecology.

These Dunes, near the shore of Lake Michigan and on the north bank of the Grand River are a gift from the river and the west wind; water and wind currents carried sand deposited by Ice Age Glaciers 4,000 years ago.  It is a perfect place to study how a dune land changes over decades, centuries, millennia.  It is a good place to observe dynamic changes from  season to season, and even from hour to hour.     Ecologists say dunes are dynamic because they change rapidly.

First to develop the discipline of ecology, Henry Chandler Cowles published his work in l899. His scientific studies of the sand dunes along Lake Michigan in Indiana and Michigan pointed out the relationships between the shifting sands of the dunes and the changing plant communities that survive under harsh conditions.  The scientific observations Cowles made in the Indiana and Michigan sand dunes made him the father of ecology.  He saw that plants and animals change more rapidly in the dunes than in other places, therefore the dunes  made a perfect outdoor laboratory. Cowles’ observations on one group of plants replacing another is called succession.  Each stage in dune succession depends upon an earlier stage.  The first plants to grow were perhaps nourished by a dead fish that washed ashore. Insects such as the springtail and bacteria and molds broke the fish down into nutrients the plants could use. After their root systems stabilized the sand, and helped build the dune, other plants were able to establish themselves nourished by nutrients in a layer of topsoil formed by decaying matter.

Here is how the dune ecosystem changes with time:

0-20 years Beach grasses

20-50 years Cottonwood, beach grasses, cherry, willow, herbs

50-l00 years Increasing variety of shrubs, trees, and herbs, Jack pine may dominate

l00-years Black oak may be among the first forest dominants

Oak and hickory_l00-l,000 years  Beech and maple climax forest (extension_bulletin E-l529 Sea Grant)

Marram grass and sand reed grass are not discouraged by the harsh environment of a sand dune: hot, desert like conditions in the summer, strong winds, and cold arctic conditions in the winter.  Dune plants are adapted to extreme heat, cold, and a lack of moisture. The marram grass and the sand reed grass hold the fort on the fore dune by binding the sand with their huge, hair like root systems that may extend down to the water table for a hundred feet. Their stems grow upward even when covered by sand repeatedly.    On these dunes, 52 acres, there is a surprising diversity of life which makes its dune scape an ever changing panorama: plants especially adapted to the dune bloom, each in their season: A self-guided nature trail with  numbered stations shows the succession of plants in the dunes along the footpath are: horsetails, interdunal ponds or pannes with rushes, sedges and various insects and amphibians. A delicate looking yet hardy plant bearberry or kinnikinick was used by the Native Americans as tobacco, and there are junipers of two types, an endangered species: Pitcher’s thistle, pines, dune grasses, poison ivy, sand cherry, and various types of hardwoods such as red oak.  On top of the highest dune are beech and maple. There are also witchhazel trees that bloom in October and sassafras that turn brilliant colors of red and orange in autumn. Some trees are entwined with bittersweet with orange fruit birds feed upon.    Dune forests can grow up on dunes that have been pioneered by grasses and shrubs which stabilize the sand and over the years  help to build a layer of topsoil that can support tall trees.  In the spring, wildflowers such as trillium grow in profusion on south slopes of forested dunes where they can absorb more sunlight. In the open sunny areas of the dune, the yellow hairy puccoon flourishes: its gray green color and fuzzy leaves help it to reflect light and retain water.

Migrating birds rest in the high tree branches while permanent residents such as the pileated woodpecker and the horned owl go about earning their livings in their particular niches.  Whitetail deer browse on vegetation and red fox feeds upon everything from berries and insects to frogs and small mammals such as the white-footed mouse.  With the climax forest, the dunes have produced a diverse community of plants and animals that are an important part of the Great Lakes’ ecosystem. It may have taken a_thousand years between the time the first grasses colonized the sand and the tall trees found enough nutrients for theirseeds to grow.  These dunes are not replaceable. They are of more value to the whole ecosystem as dunes rather than as industrial sand or real estate. They protect inland areas from wind damage since wind blowing off the lake will glance off of a tall dune and rise up into the air.  They also protect inland areas from flooding, but perhaps their most appreciated value is their beauty.  Dune plants may be able to live through harsh summer and winter weather but, they cannot stand up to off the road vehicles or heavy foot traffic.  Building houses on dunes may also cause wind erosion when the plants stabilizing the dunes are removed. This is called a blowout and it forms a saddle shaped or U shaped depression in a stable sand dune.  In the past, many Lake Michigan dunes were trucked away load by load since their fine sand has industrial uses.

In order to protect Michigan’s coastal sand dunes, the state government passed a law in l989 that will prevent harmful development and protect the dunes we still have left. Governor Blanchard signed the bill into law at Kitchel Lindquist Hartger Dunes. Henry Chandler Cowles would have been proud.

In the deep valleys between sand dunes, wetlands with the same sort of living things found in ponds, may appear and then disappear when the weather becomes dry. Before the water disappears, tadpoles may change into frogs and toads. Salamanders may make their transformation from a water to a land animal.    With the climax forest, the dunes have produced a diverse community of plants and animals that are an important part of the Great Lakes’ ecosystem. It may have taken a thousand years between the time the first grasses colonized the sand and the tall trees found enough nutrients for their seeds to grow.  These dunes are not replaceable. They are of more value to the whole ecosystem as dunes rather than as industrial sand or real estate. They protect inland areas from wind damage since wind blowing off the lake will glance off of a tall dune and rise up into the air.  They also protect inland areas from flooding.  In the winter, people_cross country ski through scenic dune trails; in springtime, people come to admire the wildflowers and listen to the music of migrating birds; in the summer, people enjoy strolling through the cool forests and playing on the beaches. In autumn, the foliage changes to brilliant colors and dry leaves rustle underfoot.  Chipmunks scamper over fallen logs, their cheeks stuffed with beechnuts.     Hikers may be alarmed by a snake that rises in a pretty good imitation of a cobra, puffing out its hood to make itself seem fearsome although it is a perfectly harmless snake, and part of the dune ecosystem.  It is the eastern hognose snake (sometimes called the puff adder) with its shovel like nose the snake uses to burrow into the sand in search of it favorite food: toads. In fact, toads are the only food the puff adder will eat. There are also a few Mississauga rattlesnakes in the dunes , so if you take a hike, it’s a good idea to stay on the marked trails and keep your eyes open. There is a lot to see and enjoy.

Great Horned Owl

horned owl

wild flowers

wild flowers

Marram grass

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My book, The Dynamic Great Lakes on Kindle   A critically acclaimed non-fiction book

click the link above

 

?????????watercolor painting by Barbara Spring


In the wooded dunes near Lake Michigan a Great Horned Owl and two chicks are resting in their nest.horned owl

Fishing Is Heating Up

June 9, 2017


My Amazon Page   click here

 

Brooks' big catch

Brooks’ big catch

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Outdoor Learning

March 29, 2017


Hands On Outdoor Learning

I’m told that children learn through play.  From what I have experienced, I believe that everyone can learn through play. Our family has been playing in, on and around the Great Lakes most of our lives. We have learned a lot while we swam, boated, fished and beach combed.  The lakes engaged all our senses: the splash of cold water, the sound of the waves, the silence of fog, hot sand underfoot and the way it sings when you drag your toes across it, the ever changing colors and rhythms of waves, the times fish bite the best.   The outdoors have many lessons to teach if we pay attention.

Family vacations took us to all of the Great Lakes; the majesty of Niagara Falls; to the rocky shores of Lake Superior where we hunted for agates; to many embayments and open waters of the lakes to fish.  My husband  Norm, has caught nearly every kind of fish in the lakes: walleye from Lake Erie and the embayments of the upper Great Lakes, deep water fish such as lake trout and burbot, and the annual runs of white fish and perch  Pacific salmon that were planted to control alewives.

We have all learned so much from our outdoor adventures;  changing colors, their beaches of stone or sand, waterfalls, fishes and birds, wetlands , and dunes with their succession of plants.  In our play around the Great Lakes, we always learn something new.

With all of this hands-on experience I wrote a non-fiction book, The Dynamic Great Lakes, a non-fiction primer.  I had wanted a book like this to read, but I never found one so I decided to write a book with information that people could use to make sound decisions about the Great Lakes.

I am also the published author of three poetry books: The Wilderness Within and Sophia’s Lost and Found: Poems of Above and Below and Between Sweetwater and Sand. The last book will be released July 30, 2013( These poems are drawn directly from observations of nature.

At Grand Valley State University, I developed writing classes based upon environmental studies. This gave students important topics to work with. I did not want papers recycled from high school.  I assigned books such as The Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold and Blue Highways by William Least-Heat Moon and Thoreau.  We discussed the topics and writing techniques used by these authors.

I asked my students to go outdoors and use observation and to use the five senses. They kept journals based on what they saw and even how they felt about what they saw.   I brought things from nature such as feathers and plants indoors for students to hold in their hands and then describe in concrete detail. They played with the downy feathers, blowing on them and closely observing them.

I asked them to use metaphor and to use as many of the five senses as they could in their descriptions.  Student writing becomes grounded in reality when using these sorts of exercises.

Our lives become grounded when playing outdoors.???????????????

Click the link for reviews of The Dynamic Great Lakes

https://www.amazon.com/Dynamic-Great-Lakes-Barbara-Spring/dp/1588517314/ref=sr_1_1_twi_pap_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1492203420&sr=1-1&keywords=the+dynamic+great+lakes


Took a walk on the beach this morning and this is how it looked. Nature is the best artist sculpting fantastic shapes from ice and snow and the singing sands.img_0639-edited


Since DDT and like pesticides were banned in 1972, the American Bald Eagles may be seen around the Great Lakes.

Read About how this happened in my book, The Dynamic Great Lakes. 

Find the book at bn.com, Amazon.com and many other brick and mortar bookstores such as the Bookman in Grand Haven, MI.


 

Lisa:Who were your mentors?

Barbara: My first mentor was my father, E. P. Reineke, a research scientist at M.S.U. in the physiology dept. He did some important original research there. I learned to love and appreciate nature from him. My husband, Norm Spring has been a long time outdoorsman and conservationist. I have learned a great deal about nature and the democratic process from him.

Lisa:What are some books that have changed your life?

Barbara:Silent Spring by Rachel Carson opened my eyes to what we are doing to the environment. After reading the book and recommending it to my husband, we both became activists on behalf of the environment before the first Earth Day in 1970. I also loved A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold. I required my students to read it when I taught writing classes at Grand Valley State University.

Lisa:Who do you think would enjoy reading this book?

Barbara:I wrote The Dynamic Great Lakes for a general audience.

I spoke to school children this week. I opened my talk with a space photo of Planet Earth and explained that the water they saw was 98% salt water-only about 2% is freshwater. “Dang!” said a kid in surprise.

The audience for my book is really adults, but school age kids will find it interesting, too. It is an up to date reference to the five Great Lakes and their connecting waters: their fishes, dunes, wetlands, seasonal changes and changes caused by people. The Dynamic Great Lakes will be an eye-opener for anyone.

Lisa:Why is the Dynamic Great Lakes an important book?

Barbara:The Great Lakes are important but often misunderstood. They are about 20% of all the fresh surface water on this planet. People need to understand their dynamics in order to make sound decisions about them. Recently a grassroots movement in Michigan blocked oil companies from further oil exploration under Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. The risk of polluting the lakes with oil and noxious gases was intolerable. There will be more schemes that threaten the health of the Great Lakes. Armed with knowledge, people will demand the right thing of their government. They will also be careful of what they do in their personal decisions. The lakes’ water is low this year, but it will rise again. People who know this is a natural cycle will not build too close to the water.

Lisa:Why is this book a good choice for Earth Day?

Barbara:The book encourages people to think globally and act locally. Everything is connected to everything else. This means that what we burn, what we release in the water and land and what we eat are all connected. We often forget that we are part of the whole and flowing web of life. Our actions will affect us now and in the future.

Lisa:How is your book different from other books about the Great Lakes?

Barbara:I limited my topic to changes in the Great Lakes, both through natural forces and through changes caused by people. There have been a great many changes and I believe people will be interested in learning about the Pacific salmon planted in the lakes to feed on the pesky alewives that invaded them through the canals around Niagara Falls. They will be interested in other exotic species such as the zebra mussels and how they got into all five Great Lakes

Lisa: How did you research the book? Barbara:I began with observations. We live within view of Lake Michigan. I can observe the change of seasons and what kinds of fish are being caught. I have also observed all the other lakes and their connecting waters. I then set out to find out authoritative information about the lakes by interviewing experts. The book is interdisciplinary. I interviewed a geologist, fish biologists, and naturalists. I asked them for good sources in print. I went out on Grand Valley State University’s research vessel, Angus to see what research was being done. I enjoyed working on the Dynamic Great Lakes because there was always something new.

Lisa:What else have you written? Barbara:As a journalist, I have written articles for the Grand Rapids Press, a major newspaper in West Michigan. These articles were about travels, profiles of interesting people, and outdoor subjects. I also have had articles published in Michigan Out of Doors magazine, Michigan Natural Resources magazine, Muskegon Magazine, Field & Stream and many other publications.


Palisades Nuclear Power PlantPalisades nuclear power plant on Lake Michigan

There are 37 nuclear power plants in the Great Lakes watershed.  Pictured is Palisades Nuclear Power plant in Covert Michigan.  This plant should have been shut down years ago.  Its radioactive wastes are stored near the plant.  Its high level wastes are buried on site.  These wastes are so toxic and so long lasting that they threaten all life in and around the Great Lakes if released.  This is a threat to our greatest freshwater system on Planet Earth and future generations.

The Five Great Lakes

August 20, 2016


The Great Lakes are the greatest freshwater system on this planet.  They are interconnected and have their outlet through the St. Lawrence River to the Atlantic Ocean.

 

map of Great Lakes

Freshwater seas.