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

Great Lakes Dune

State Rank: S2     Global Rank: G3   what are these ranks?


Detailed Community Description from Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin

General natural community overview

Counties shaded blue have documented occurrences for Great Lakes Dune in the Wisconsin Natural Heritage Inventory database.

Overall, Great Lakes dune flora is an odd mix of geographically restricted habitat specialists and weedy generalists. Among the specialists are a number of plants and animals, some of which occur in no other habitat and in no other region of North America. Others occur wherever dunes occur in eastern North America, including marine environments along the Atlantic Ocean coast.

Among the relatively few plants able to successfully colonize active, unvegetated dunes are several drought resistant perennial grasses that produce tough, sand binding rhizomes. Especially important are marram grass (Ammophila breviligulata), the most prevalent dominant species in Great Lakes dune systems, sand reed (Calamovilfa longifolia), sand-dune wheatgrass (Elymus lanceolatus ssp. psammophilus) , crinkled hair grass (Deschampsia flexuosa), and Canada wild rye (Elymus canadensis). Associated vascular plants include beach pea (Lathyrus japonicus), wormwood (Artemisia campestris), common evening-primrose (Oenothera biennis), common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), and a long list of weedy native and exotic species (Curtis 1959).

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 Great Lakes Dune 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.

Hairy-necked Tiger BeetleCicindela hirticollis rhodensis1

Piping PloverCharadrius melodus3

Butterflies and mothsScore
Phyllira Tiger MothGrammia phyllira3

Grasshoppers and alliesScore
Blue-legged GrasshopperMelanoplus flavidus3
Club-horned GrasshopperAeropedellus clavatus3
Lake Huron LocustTrimerotropis huroniana3
Scudder's Short-winged GrasshopperMelanoplus scudderi3
Seaside GrasshopperTrimerotropis maritima3
Stone's LocustMelanoplus stonei3
Bruner's Spur-throat GrasshopperMelanoplus bruneri2
Clear-winged GrasshopperCamnula pellucida2
Delicate Meadow KatydidOrchelimum delicatum2
Forest LocustMelanoplus islandicus2
A Spur-throat GrasshopperMelanoplus foedus1
Huckleberry Spur-throat GrasshopperMelanoplus fasciatus1
Speckled Rangeland GrasshopperArphia conspersa1

Franklin's Ground SquirrelPoliocitellus franklinii3
Prairie Deer MousePeromyscus maniculatus bairdii1

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
Anticlea elegans ssp. glaucus White Camas 2
Botrychium campestre Prairie Dunewort 3
Cakile edentula var. lacustris American Sea-rocket 2
Calamovilfa longifolia var. magna Sand Reedgrass 3
Cirsium pitcheri Pitcher's Thistle 3
Coreopsis lanceolata Sand Coreopsis 3
Elymus lanceolatus ssp. psammophilus Thickspike 3
Euphorbia polygonifolia Seaside Spurge 3
Geocaulon lividum Northern Comandra 1
Iris lacustris Dwarf Lake Iris 3
Orobanche fasciculata Clustered Broomrape 3
Salix cordata Sand Dune Willow 3
Solidago simplex var. gillmanii Dune Goldenrod 3
Tanacetum bipinnatum ssp. huronense Lake Huron Tansy 3
Thalictrum venulosum Veined Meadowrue 2


The following Ecological Landscapes have the best opportunities to manage for Great Lakes Dune, 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 Great Lakes Dune in Ecological Landscapes with opportunities for protection, restoration, and/or management. For more information, see the Wildlife Action Plan.

Central Lake Michigan Coastal

Kohler-Andre State Park contains one of Wisconsin's best-developed dune systems. Great effort has been expended in recent years to protect the dunes from overuse, stabilize blowouts, and control or remove invasive or otherwise unwanted vegetation. Coastal dunes also occur on adjacent private lands, which may offer ecological opportunities for additional protection.

Northern Lake Michigan Coastal

Public lands that feature examples of Great Lakes dune include Whitefish Dunes and Newport Beach State Park. Nearby, the "Shivering Sands" area, from Cave Point County Park to Rocky Point (south of the Sturgeon Bay ship canal), contains some high-quality dunes. Seagull Bar, on the West Shore of Green Bay, at the mouth of the Menominee River near Marinette, contains very small areas of low dune vegetation.

Southern Lake Michigan Coastal

Chiwaukee Prairie State Natural Area and adjacent Carol Beach protect about 0.3 miles of dune ecosystem, including many rare plant species. However, in this landscape the Lake Michigan shoreline has been heavily developed, with extensive seawalls, large jetties, and long stretches of riprap, covering the former beaches and isolating the dunes from their primary source of sand. Long-term viability of the dunes here is doubtful, without major intervention and augmentation. More viable protection options for beach and dune habitats may occur just to the south of Wisconsin, at Illinois Beach State Park. Scattered small pockets of dune exist at a few other locations. These need additional evaluation to determine whether or not they are worthy of conservation action.

Superior Coastal Plain

Lake Superior dunes are seldom more than a few meters high, but can be associated with special landforms (e.g., coastal barrier spits, baymouth bars, tombolos) that can sometimes extend for miles. Wisconsin Point, a coastal barrier spit at the mouth of Lake Superior on the western end of the lake, features several miles of low dunes, along a narrow zone between an unvegetated beach and a linear forest of pines. Developments on the barrier spit include an access road, seawall along an artificial channel that now separates the states of Wisconsin and Minnesota, and a Coast Guard facility. This site is justly famed for the large numbers and high diversity of migratory birds it attracts, including many rarities. Beach and low dune complexes are also prominent features at several embayments along the northern margin of the Bayfield Peninsula, and in association with sandspits on the Apostle Islands. The Bad River and Red Cliff Bands of Lake Superior Ojibwa are stewards of significant Great Lakes shorelines that include dune systems and related features. Long Island-Chequamegon Point, an extensive barrier spit that crosses several miles of Chequamegon Bay, contains the most intact and extensive area of beach and dune on western Lake Superior.


Great Lakes Dune Photos

Great Lakes Dune Photo

Dunes and swales dominant grasses are beachgrass, Ammophila breviligulata, and sand-reed, Calamovilfa longifolia.

Photo by Emmet Judziewicz.

Great Lakes Dune Photo

Low dunes and beach connect Long Island with Chequamegon Point on Lake Superio. Beach grass dunes on left, broad, unvegetated sand beach on right.

Photo by Emmet Judziewicz.

Great Lakes Dune Photo

Large, Great Lakes dunes stabilized by white cedar, pines and aspen. Whitefish Dunes State Natural Area, Door County.

Photo by Eric Epstein.

Great Lakes Dune Photo

Great Lakes Dune community, Kohler-Andrae State Park, Sheboygan County.

Photo by Eric Epstein.

Great Lakes Dune Photo

Low, broad expanse of Great Lakes dune near Port Wing dominated by American beech grass with scattered evening primrose.

Photo by Ryan O'Connor.

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: Tuesday, August 30, 2022