Alex Palmer's Natural History Notes and Thoughts

Thoughts and reflections on various social and environmental issues, as well as naturalist observations from the great outdoors.

ecosystem restoration in pictures

The following set of pictures will show what conservationists do when they are out in the field doing habitat restoration work.  Lake County, Indiana, where I have been working the past few months, has joined forces with The Nature Conservancy, a few local land preservation organizations, and the Indiana DNR to restore dune and swale habitats.  A dune is a ridge or hillside composed of sand that was deposited by an ocean or a large lake.  A swale is like a pond or a marsh, but shaped linearly.  Therefore, a dune and swale ecosystem is an alternating pattern of dune swale, dune swale, dune swale, and etc.    This sort of topography is globally rare, and the southern shore of Lake Michigan in Northwest Indiana is one of the few places in the world that still has some of this habitat type left.

In recent years in Northwest Indiana, pollution, habitat destruction, and overdevelopment have caused many invasive and weedy shrubs to choke out the plant community of dunes and swales.  Our job has been to remove these overgrown shrubs and to restore the original plant community that was here prior to urban development.

Some of the pictures posted in this entry will be repeats, but I hope this summarizes what naturalists such as myself actually do.

Photo A: Prickly Pair Cactus at the end of its season. Gary, Indiana. November 2010.

Some of you might ask:  “How the heck can cactus grow in the Chicago region??  Isn’t it too cold and wet??”  Well my answer to that is no, because if it were it wouldn’t be growing there.  The eastern species of prickly pear cactus, pictured above, is adapted to drier, well-drained sandy soils in the dunes along Lake Michigan.

Photo B: Many of the nature preserves that we work on that have not been recently managed are very overgrown with dense woody shrubs, often ones that are exotic plants that have no natural controls (such as insects that eat them).


Photo C: After the brush is cut, it is then piled and stacked in order to be wood-chipped or burned. The stumps are then sprayed with a light herbicide to prevent resprouting.

Photo D: Brushcutting and chainsawing is exhausting work, and the equipment needs continuous maintenance. Equipment used includes brush cutters, chainsaws, chemical sprayers, and hard-hat protective gear.

Photo E: The work, however, does pay off. Come summer, the nature preserves that I have been working in around this region will look more like this photo.

Photo F: If you're ever in this region, a visit to areas near the Lakeshore may reveal showy and color flowers such as the Orchid pictured here (Family Orchidaceae).


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