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For information on Wisconsin's natural communities, contact:
Ryan O'Connor
Natural Heritage Inventory Ecologist

Southern Dry Forest

State Rank: S3     Global Rank: G4   what are these ranks?


Detailed Community Description from Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin

General natural community overview

Counties shaded blue have documented occurrences for Southern Dry Forest in the Wisconsin Natural Heritage Inventory database.

Oaks are the dominant species in this upland dry forest community. White oak (Quercus alba) and black oak (Quercus velutina) are dominant, often with northern red and bur oaks and black cherry. In the well-developed shrub layer, brambles (Rubus spp.), gray dogwood, and American hazelnut are common. Frequent herbaceous species are wild geranium, false Solomon's-seal, hog-peanut, and rough-leaved sunflower. This community type intergrades with oak woodland, which has similar canopy composition but a more open forest floor due to relatively frequent ground fires and perhaps grazing by elk, bison, or deer prior to European settlement.

Rare animals

Species of Greatest Conservation Need

Wisconsin Wildlife Action Plan graphic

The following Species of Greatest Conservation Need are listed according to their level of association with the Southern Dry Forest natural community type, based on the findings in Wisconsin's 2015 Wildlife Action Plan.

Scores: 3 = high association, 2 = moderate association, and 1 = low association. See the key to association scores for complete definitions.

Ants, wasps, and beesScore
Confusing Bumble BeeBombus perplexus1
Rusty-patched Bumble BeeBombus affinis1
Yellowbanded Bumble BeeBombus terricola1

Aquatic and terrestrial snailsScore
Smooth CoilHelicodiscus singleyanus2
Bronze PineconeStrobilops aeneus1
Hubricht's VertigoVertigo hubrichti1
Wing SnaggletoothGastrocopta procera1

A Leaf BeetlePachybrachis luridus1
A Leaf BeetleCryptocephalus cuneatus1
A Leaf BeetleGlyptina leptosoma1
A Leaf BeetleDistigmoptera impennata1
A Pear-shaped WeevilFallapion impeditum1
A Pear-shaped WeevilSayapion segnipes1
Northern Barrens Tiger BeetleCicindela patruela patruela1

Hooded WarblerSetophaga citrina3
Eastern Whip-poor-willAntrostomus vociferus2
Long-eared OwlAsio otus2
Red-headed WoodpeckerMelanerpes erythrocephalus2
Worm-eating WarblerHelmitheros vermivorum2
Acadian FlycatcherEmpidonax virescens1
American WoodcockScolopax minor1
Cerulean WarblerSetophaga cerulea1
Least FlycatcherEmpidonax minimus1

Butterflies and mothsScore
Columbine Dusky WingErynnis lucilius1
Karner BlueLycaeides melissa samuelis1

Grasshoppers and alliesScore
Black-striped KatydidScudderia fasciata2
Blue-legged GrasshopperMelanoplus flavidus2
Grizzly Spur-throat GrasshopperMelanoplus punctulatus2
A Spur-throat GrasshopperMelanoplus foedus1
Ash-brown GrasshopperTrachyrhachys kiowa1
Clear-winged GrasshopperCamnula pellucida1
Club-horned GrasshopperAeropedellus clavatus1
Forest LocustMelanoplus islandicus1
Green-streak GrasshopperHesperotettix viridis1
Handsome GrasshopperSyrbula admirabilis1
Huckleberry Spur-throat GrasshopperMelanoplus fasciatus1
Mermiria GrasshopperMermiria bivittata1
Rocky Mountain Sprinkled LocustChloealtis abdominalis1
Scudder's Short-winged GrasshopperMelanoplus scudderi1
Short-winged GrasshopperDichromorpha viridis1
Showy GrasshopperHesperotettix speciosus1
Speckled Rangeland GrasshopperArphia conspersa1
Spotted-winged GrasshopperOrphulella pelidna1
Stone's LocustMelanoplus stonei1

Leafhoppers and true bugsScore
A Seed BugSlaterobius quadristriata2

Big Brown BatEptesicus fuscus2
Eastern PipistrellePerimyotis subflavus2
Northern Long-eared BatMyotis septentrionalis2
Woodland VoleMicrotus pinetorum2
Little Brown BatMyotis lucifugus1
Silver-haired BatLasionycteris noctivagans1

Gray RatsnakePantherophis spiloides3
Ornate Box TurtleTerrapene ornata3
Timber RattlesnakeCrotalus horridus3
GophersnakePituophis catenifer2
North American RacerColuber constrictor2
Prairie Ring-necked SnakeDiadophis punctatus arnyi2
Western WormsnakeCarphophis vermis2

Please see Section 2. Approach and Methods of the Wildlife Action Plan to learn how this information was developed.

Rare plants

The Natural Heritage Inventory has developed scores indicating the degree to which each of Wisconsin's rare plant species is associated with a particular natural community or ecological landscape. This information is similar to that found in the Wildlife Action Plan for animals. As this is a work in progress, we welcome your suggestions and feedback.

Scores: 3 = "significantly associated," 2 = "moderately associated," and 1 = "minimally associated."
Scientific Name Common Name Score
Asclepias ovalifolia Dwarf Milkweed 2
Besseya bullii Kitten Tails 3
Carex backii Rocky Mountain Sedge 2
Cuscuta coryli Hazel Dodder 1
Desmodium perplexum Perplexed Tick-trefoil 2
Lespedeza violacea Violet Bush Clover 1
Lespedeza virginica Slender Bush Clover 2
Paronychia canadensis Smooth Forked Nail-wort 3
Ptelea trifoliata ssp. trifoliata var. trifoliata Wafer-ash 2
Quercus muehlenbergii Chinquapin Oak 2
Verbena simplex Narrow-leaved Vervain 1
Viola sagittata var. ovata Sand Violet 1


The following Ecological Landscapes have the best opportunities to manage for Southern Dry Forest, based on the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin Handbook.

Map of the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin.

Major (3 on map)
A major opportunity for sustaining the natural community in the Ecological Landscape exists, either because many significant occurrences of the natural community have been recorded in the landscape or major restoration activities are likely to be successful maintaining the community's composition, structure, and ecological function over a longer period of time.

Important (2 on map)
Although the natural community does not occur extensively or commonly in the Ecological Landscape, one to several occurrences do occur and are important in sustaining the community in the state. In some cases, important opportunities may exist because the natural community may be restricted to just one or a few Ecological Landscapes within the state and there may be a lack of opportunities elsewhere.

Present (1 on map)
The natural community occurs in the Ecological Landscape, but better management opportunities appear to exist in other parts of the state.


Wisconsin Wildlife Action Plan graphic

What are conservation actions?

Conservation actions respond to issues or threats, which adversely affect species of greatest conservation need (SGCN) or their habitats. Besides actions such as restoring wetlands or planting resilient tree species in northern communities, research, surveys and monitoring are also among conservation actions described in the WWAP because lack of information can threaten our ability to successfully preserve and care for natural resources.

Threats/issues and conservations actions for natural communities


The following are additional considerations for Southern Dry Forest in Ecological Landscapes with opportunities for protection, restoration, and/or management. For more information, see the Wildlife Action Plan.

Central Sand Hills

The highest current relative importance values for white, black, and bur oak are found here as compared with forest species in other Ecological Landscapes. Exemplary sites include the Lawrence Creek Headwaters Area (Adams County) and Hawk Hill in Lodi Marsh Wildlife Area (Dane County). There are significant opportunities to maintain and restore southern dry forest in this Ecological Landscape. Eastern white pine is regenerating in the understory of some sites. These areas near the tension zone often exhibit characteristics of northern and southern dry forest, and Central Sands pine-oak forest. This type historically may have alternated with eastern white pine on several-hundred year intervals.

Central Sand Plains

Dry forests (southern dry forest, northern dry forest, Central Sands pine-oak forest) are a major opportunity in this Ecological Landscape. These areas near the Tension Zone often exhibit characteristics of all three types. Important sites include Bear Bluff, Black River State Forest (Jackson County), Necedah National Wildlife Refuge (Juneau County), and Quincy Bluff (Adams County). Eastern white pine is regenerating in the understory of some sites; this type historically may have alternated with eastern white pine on several-hundred year intervals.

Southeast Glacial Plains

The most important sites exist in the Kettle Moraine State Forest and vicinity. Other quality sites include the White River Sedge Meadow and Prairie (Green Lake County) and the Hawa Oak Woods and Prairie (Waukesha County). Invasive shrubs such as common buckthorn and Asian honeysuckles are a major problem in the Ecological Landscape.

Southern Lake Michigan Coastal

There are limited opportunities in this Ecological Landscape, primarily for managing existing sites such as Bristol Park Woods (Kenosha County) and Waubeesee Woods (Racine County).

Southwest Savanna

Important sites include Blue Mound State Park (Iowa County), Browntown Oaks (Green County), and Weir White Oaks (LaFayette County).

Western Coulee and Ridges

Important sites include Badlands (Sauk County), Kickapoo Reserve (Vernon County), and Fort McCoy (Monroe County). Sites subject to repeated high grading or grazing may convert to central hardwoods, but sites on steep southwest and south-facing slopes with sandy soils may convert to eastern red cedar. Private landowners should be worked with to encourage maintenance of oak forests and oak woodland, and to limit loss of oak due to gypsy moth.


Southern Dry Forest Photos

Southern Dry Forest Photo

Photo by Christina Isenring.

Southern Dry Forest Photo

Southern Dry Forest with understory dominated by huckleberry, Adams County.

Photo by Drew Feldkirchner.

Southern Dry Forest Photo

Extensive block of Southern Dry Forest on a S-facing bluff in the Baraboo Hills. Sauk County. Note lianas.

Photo by Eric Epstein.

Southern Dry Forest Photo

Spreading crowns of white and black oak form the canopy of a Southern Dry Forest at Puchyan Prairie SNA.

Photo by Patricia Trochlell.

Note: photos are provided to illustrate various examples of natural community types. A single photograph cannot represent the range of variability inherent in a given community type. Some of these photos explicitly illustrate unusual and distinctive community variants. The community photo galleries are a work in progress that we will expand and improve in the future.

Last revised: Wednesday, June 16, 2021