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5 Habitat - TravelStorys

Ross Coastal Plain Marsh Preserve

Location Trip Time Travel Type
Michigan 45 minutes

5 Habitat

Whew! This part of the trail definitely has some steeper terrain. The trees grow more thickly in this part of the preserve, but the sandy soil under your feet is a hint that, four or five thousand years ago, the landscape would have been quite different. The ridges around you were once sand dunes that looked directly out over Lake Michigan. Since then, over thousands of years, Lake Michigan has receded about half a mile to the west. Dunes are an iconic feature of Michigan’s coastlines. However, the dune life is not for everyone. Exposed to rain and wind, open dunes are changeable and dynamic. Water is scarce, as the sandy soil doesn’t hold moisture for long. Yet some plants have adapted to and even thrive in this harsh environment. For example, the seed of the rare Pitcher’s thistle must be scoured by blowing sand in order to grow. Over time, as lake levels went down, and Lake Michigan’s shoreline moved further west, the winds encountered more landmass and became less powerful this far inland as a result. With less wind and more stability, woody species began to grow. Gradually, the soil collected organic matter which increased nutrients within, and a type of ecosystem called “successional backdune forest” began to flourish. Sheltered from the wind, a rich diversity of plants and animals now lives in the shade of trees such as beech and maple, as well as black cherry and sassafras (a key ingredient in root beer!). One of the most important tree species in this system is hemlock, which you will learn more about on the next stop in our tour.

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