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

Sand Barrens

State Rank: SU     Global Rank: GNR   what are these ranks?


Detailed Community Description from Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin

General natural community overview

Counties shaded blue have documented occurrences for Sand Barrens in the Wisconsin Natural Heritage Inventory database.

Sand barrens are herbaceous upland communities that develop on unstable or semi-stabilized alluvial sands along major rivers like the Mississippi and Wisconsin. They are partly or perhaps wholly anthropogenic in origin, occurring on sites historically disturbed by plowing or very heavy grazing. Unvegetated "blow-outs" are characteristic features. Barrens, dry prairie, and sand prairie species such as false-heather (Hudsonia tomentosa), bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), sedges (Cyperus filiculmis and C. schweinitzii), sand cress (Arabidopsis lyrata), three-awn grasses (Aristida spp.), rock spike-moss (Selaginella rupestris), and the earthstar fungi (Geaster spp.) occur in this community type. Many exotics are often present and rare disturbance-dependent species such as fameflower (Phemeranthus rugospermus) are found in some stands.

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 Sand Barrens 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
A Cuckoo BeeEpeolus ainsliei3
An Anthophorid BeeNeolarra vigilans3
American Bumble BeeBombus pensylvanicus1
Yellow Bumble BeeBombus fervidus1

Aquatic and terrestrial snailsScore
Wing SnaggletoothGastrocopta procera1

Ghost Tiger BeetleEllipsoptera lepida3
A Leaf BeetlePachybrachis luridus2
A Pear-shaped WeevilFallapion impeditum2
Northern Barrens Tiger BeetleCicindela patruela patruela2
Virginia Big-headed Tiger BeetleTetracha virginica2
A Leaf BeetlePachybrachis peccans1
A Leaf BeetleGlyptina leptosoma1
A Leaf BeetleDistigmoptera impennata1
A Leaf BeetleBassareus mammifer1
A Pear-shaped WeevilTrichapion perforicolle1
A Pear-shaped WeevilSayapion segnipes1

Common NighthawkChordeiles minor3
Grasshopper SparrowAmmodramus savannarum3
Lark SparrowChondestes grammacus3
Vesper SparrowPooecetes gramineus3
Bell's VireoVireo bellii2
Brewer's BlackbirdEuphagus cyanocephalus2
Eastern MeadowlarkSturnella magna2
Eastern Whip-poor-willAntrostomus vociferus2
Western MeadowlarkSturnella neglecta2
Greater Prairie-ChickenTympanuchus cupido1
Loggerhead ShrikeLanius ludovicianus1
Long-eared OwlAsio otus1
Short-eared OwlAsio flammeus1

Butterflies and mothsScore
Phyllira Tiger MothGrammia phyllira3
Dusted SkipperAtrytonopsis hianna2
Gorgone Checker SpotChlosyne gorgone2
Persius Dusky WingErynnis persius2
Bina Flower MothSchinia bina1
Chryxus ArcticOeneis chryxus1
Cobweb SkipperHesperia metea1
Cross Line SkipperPolites origenes1
Frosted ElfinCallophrys irus1
Karner BlueLycaeides melissa samuelis1
Owl-eyed Bird Dropping MothCerma cora1
Phlox MothSchinia indiana1
Sprague's PygarcticaPygarctia spraguei1

Grasshoppers and alliesScore
A Spur-throat GrasshopperMelanoplus foedus3
Blue-legged GrasshopperMelanoplus flavidus3
Clear-winged GrasshopperCamnula pellucida3
Green-streak GrasshopperHesperotettix viridis3
Grizzly Spur-throat GrasshopperMelanoplus punctulatus3
Plains Yellow-winged GrasshopperArphia simplex3
Ash-brown GrasshopperTrachyrhachys kiowa2
Club-horned GrasshopperAeropedellus clavatus2
Gladston's Spur-throat GrasshopperMelanoplus gladstoni2
Seaside GrasshopperTrimerotropis maritima2
Speckled Rangeland GrasshopperArphia conspersa2
Stone's LocustMelanoplus stonei2
Forest LocustMelanoplus islandicus1
Huckleberry Spur-throat GrasshopperMelanoplus fasciatus1
Mermiria GrasshopperMermiria bivittata1
Obscure GrasshopperOpeia obscura1
Rocky Mountain Sprinkled LocustChloealtis abdominalis1
Scudder's Short-winged GrasshopperMelanoplus scudderi1
Spotted-winged GrasshopperOrphulella pelidna1

Leafhoppers and true bugsScore
A LeafhopperLaevicephalus vannus3
Prairie LeafhopperPolyamia dilata3
A LeafhopperParaphlepsius maculosus2
An Issid PlanthopperBruchomorpha extensa2
A LeafhopperPrairiana cinerea1
A LeafhopperPrairiana kansana1
A Seed BugSlaterobius quadristriata1

Prairie Deer MousePeromyscus maniculatus bairdii3
Prairie VoleMicrotus ochrogaster3
Franklin's Ground SquirrelPoliocitellus franklinii2
Little Brown BatMyotis lucifugus2
Northern Long-eared BatMyotis septentrionalis2
Big Brown BatEptesicus fuscus1

Blanding's TurtleEmydoidea blandingii3
Eastern MassasaugaSistrurus catenatus3
GophersnakePituophis catenifer3
North American RacerColuber constrictor3
Ornate Box TurtleTerrapene ornata3
Prairie SkinkPlestiodon septentrionalis3
Six-lined RacerunnerAspidoscelis sexlineata3
Slender Glass LizardOphisaurus attenuatus3
Timber RattlesnakeCrotalus horridus3
Wood TurtleGlyptemys insculpta3
Prairie Ring-necked SnakeDiadophis punctatus arnyi2
Gray RatsnakePantherophis spiloides1
Plains GartersnakeThamnophis radix1

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
Phemeranthus rugospermus Prairie Fame-flower 3


The following Ecological Landscapes have the best opportunities to manage for Sand Barrens, based on the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin Handbook.

Map of the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin.

Ecological LandscapeOpportunity
Western Coulee and RidgesMajor
Central Sand PlainsImportant
Central Sand HillsPresent
Northwest SandsPresent

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


Sand Barrens Photos

Sand Barrens Photo

Open sand blows created by failed attempts to cultivate sand prairie or pine barrens vegeatation. Dense stands of jack pine now surround the sand blows.

Photo by Eric Epstein.

Sand Barrens Photo

Sand barrens with sparse jack pine, little bluestem, and a variety of low-growing grasses and forbs.

Photo by Ryan O'Connor.

Sand Barrens Photo

Sand barrens dominated by false heather and a biocrust of lichens at Blue River Barrens SNA.

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: Wednesday, June 16, 2021