Tech researchers map invasive plants in Great Lakes wetlands

We hear a lot about invasive species in the Great Lakes, but it's usually all about fish and other animals. Well, there are invasive plants, too, and Michigan Tech researchers are looking into one that's been spotted in the wetland areas of the Great Lakes.

The common reed, or phragmites australis, isn't native to the Great Lakes, but grows quickly in our climate conditions into large, tall stands that can threaten wetlands habitat.

The plant hasn't been studied very much, or mapped, which was the goal of the Tech scientists, in cooperation with the U.S. Geological Survey, Boston College and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Together, teams first mapped the U.S. coastlines of all five Great Lakes using satellites.

Then, they did field studies along the coastlines to confirm the satellite findings, and plot the locations of large stands of the reed, in a first-of-its-kind map.

They found the most in lakes Huron and Erie, and to a lesser extent, in Lake Michigan. Only a few stands were mapped in Lake Ontario, and almost none were found in Lake Superior, leading to the theory that the plant is limited by the more northern climates of the Great Lakes region.

Lead author Laura Bourgeau-Chavez, a research scientist at Michigan Tech Research Institute in Ann Arbor, says the map is "a highly accurate data set that will allow national, regional and local managers to visualize the extent of Phragmites invasion in the Great Lakes and strategically plan efforts to manage existing populations and minimize new colonization."

Writer: Sam Eggleston
Source: Michigan Technological University
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