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Center for Spatial Information and Research

Assessment of Stress-Response to Water Level Fluctuations in Common Reed Stands, Upper Winnebago Pool Lakes, Wisconsin

Since the Upper Winnebago Pool Lakes (Lakes Butte des Morts, Winneconne, and Poygan) were created by the damming of the Fox River in the 1850's, extensive stands of common reed (Phragmites australis), known locally as cane beds, have grown in scattered patches throughout the system. Subsequent to impoundment, these stands have been subjected to a variety of stresses, including imposed water level regimes with winter drawdowns, wave action, boating activity, rough fish feeding and spawning, and competition with intrusive algal growths. Anecdotal evidence and recent observations have indicated that common reed stands have been slowly diminishing in both size and vigor and that the rate of deterioration in the past 10 - 15 years has been accelerating (Rudebeck, 1997; Techlow, 1997). However, no precise quantification of the changes in aerial extent of common reed beds in the Upper Winnebago Pool Lakes existed, nor had a recent assessment of the current status of common reed beds in the system been conducted.

Although limited in acreage, stands of emergent macrophytes such as these provide numerous ecological as well as recreational functions including: life support for a variety of microbial, invertebrate, vertebrate, and plant and algal populations; maintenance of water quality and geochemical storage, especially with regard to cycling of nutrients, changes in dissolved oxygen, and sedimentation of suspended solids; protection of shorelines from wave erosion and prevention of resuspension of fine sediment; and open space and aesthetics for both consumptive and non-consumptive outdoor activities. In the Winnebago system, these areas have already been identified to be extremely important as: 1) habitat for a number of waterfowl and other bird species, providing food, cover, and nesting substrates; 2) vital fish habitat, providing cover, egg-laying substrates and support of fish food fauna; 3) important hunting and fishing areas; 4) stabilizers of lake bottom sediments; and 5) erosion protection (Kahl, 1993; Nichols and Vennie, 1991).

Given the potential significance of these stands in a system that is already highly anthropogenically stressed, we have examined the relation between changes in characteristics of common reed stands and some key environmental factors that may affect their success, especially those related to seasonal patterns in water level management. By determining the relevant factors and stresses responsible for the changes in size and location of common reed stands, we have begun to develop information necessary for the management, protection, and possible rehabilitation of common reed stands in the Upper Winnebago Pool Lakes. Our study addressed the following objectives: 1) developing a historical, quantified record of changes in the spatial characteristics of 14 common reed stands from 1937-97, including aerial extent, distribution, and shape; 2) developing baseline information on the current status of the common reed stands, including stem densities and uniformity of distribution within stands, as well as related water levels; and 3) assessing the relationship between changes in the spatial characteristics of common reed beds and extreme water-level fluctuations and meteorological conditions during the winter and the growing season.

Funding Sources:

Assessment of Stress-Response to Water Level Fluctuations in Common Reed Stands,
Lake Butte des Morts and Lake Winneconne, Wisconsin
Wisconsin DNR Lake Planning Grant
Amount: $12,000
Dates of Project: 06/00 - 05/01
Summer Students Funded: 3

Assessment of Stress-Response to Water Level Fluctuations in Common Reed Stands,
Lake Poygan, Wisconsin
UW-Oshkosh Faculty Development Research Grant
Amount: $2,600
Wisconsin DNR Lake Planning Grant
Amount: $13,000
Dates of Project: 05/97 - 03/98
Summer Students Funded: 2

Finished Reports:

Gabriel, A.O. 2001. Assessment of Stress-Response in Common Reed Stands in the Winnebago Pool Lakes, Wisconsin. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Lake Planning Grant Report. Geo-ecology Research Group Research Report 3. Ellensburg: Central Washington University. 130 pp.

Gabriel, A.O., and L. Bodensteiner. 1998. Assessment of Stress-Response to Water Level Fluctuations in Common Reed Stands, Lake Poygan, Wisconsin. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Lake Planning Grant Report. Geo-ecology Research Group Research Report 1. Oshkosh: University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. 40 pp.

Related Publications:

Bodensteiner, L.R., and A.O. Gabriel. 2003. Response of mid-water common reed stands to water level changes and winter conditions in Lake Poygan, Wisconsin. Aquatic Botany, 76 (1), pp. 49-64.

Gabriel, A.O., and L. Bodensteiner. 2002. Historical changes in mid-water stands of common reed in the Winnebago Pool Lakes, Wisconsin. Journal of Freshwater Ecology, 17 (4), pp. 563-573.

Gabriel, A.O., and L. Bodensteiner. 1998. Assessment of stress-response to water level fluctuations in common reed stands, Lake Poygan, Wisconsin. Poster presented at the Annual Meeting of the Canadian Association of Geographers. June 2-6, 1998. University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario.