Aquatic Plant Research > Understanding Aquatic Plants > Community Composition
Aquatic Plant Research
Understanding the factors that drive the composition of plant communities we observe, helps us to better manage lake systems and improve their overall health.
Recognizing the need to contribute to the Natural Heritage Inventory (NHI), DNR Science Services have provided aquatic plant survey data resulting in 122 new rare aquatic plant populations entered into the NHI database. This information can be used by conservation biologists within the WDNR to inform conservation status assessments, master planning and environmental reviews, and for aquatic plant management permitting under NR 107 and 109.
This statewide research project investigated the effects of land use on aquatic plants. Understanding how human activity impacts plant communities can help protect Wisconsin’s high quality lakes. Researchers found that lakes with developed watersheds have more non-native plant species and fewer of some groups of native species. Native plants that were impacted included water lilies and other floating-leaved plants, pondweeds, and isoetids. Development and impacts were greatest in southern Wisconsin, although some natural differences in lakes occurred between northern and southern Wisconsin as well. The findings suggested human activities on land as well as environmental variation affect aquatic plants, and laid the ground work for future studies to quantify the relative strength of natural, spatial, and human influences on aquatic plant communities.
Recognizing the need to catalog and verify the identification of aquatic plant species found in waterbodies of the state, DNR Science Services have sent 1345 voucher specimens to the UW Freckmann Herbarium for cataloging and confirmation of identification. Voucher specimens are an important aspect to plant research because they provide the historical records needed for any potential identification questions that may arise in the future.
University of Wisconsin-Madison and DNR Science Services were asked to write a book chapter in the Encyclopedia of Inland Waters that addresses human impacts on aquatic plant distribution and abundance. The article explores the variety of ways that people, through activities on land and water, both inadvertently and purposefully affect the distribution and abundance of aquatic plants. Researchers cover several specific mechanisms including: eutrophication, UV radiation, acid rain, increased atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, invasive species introductions, aquatic plant management (chemical, mechanical, biological, and physical), and restoration. Human impacts on aquatic plant communities are numerous and involve many mechanisms, all of which may interact. Protection of these important environments requires an understanding of the factors that influence plant distribution and abundance and how human activities affect with these factors.
Studying aquatic plants can tell us a lot about an individual lake, and a scientific approach to observing plant communities allows us to draw conclusions about lake health, the presence and impacts of invasive species, and the effectiveness of different approaches to lake management. We believe in the power of a strong science program to support sound management decisions to fulfill the needs of multiple stakeholders while improving and maintaining Wisconsin's rich natural resources. In this Lake Tides article, DNR Science Services scientists discuss four questions about using aquatic plant data to better understand our lakes.
One of the goals of DNR aquatic plant researchers is to help people make informed decisions about lake management. However, in order to do that, we first needed to understand the range of variation that occurs in lake plant communities. Understanding what is typical for aquatic plants helps us establish reasonable management expectations and set priorities for management. To this end, DNR scientists studied 225 lakes and use data on their aquatic plants to draw conclusions about what drives plant community makeup and the distribution of native and invasive plant species in the state of Wisconsin.