On the shorelines of three large rivers, scouring flood waters and winter ice create riparian prairies, special habitats that support nearly 40 different rare plant species. Thick with grasses and flowering plants, these riparian prairies share many characteristics with the tallgrass prairies of the American Midwest. However, riparian prairies are much smaller in size and are maintained by raging floods and scraping ice that wash over these habitats, scouring most trees and shrubs that are not adapted to disturbance. These habitats are globally rare because they occur in very few places in the world and are at risk of being damaged. Three things that could be harming the prairies are: invasive exotic plants, river flow regulation, and human recreation.
The Eastern Rivers and Mountains Network collects information on the condition of riparian prairies and how the prairies are changing over time. We use transects and plots to record the diversity and abundance of plants, as well as the cover of trees and shrubs. This long-term monitoring helps park managers protect the prairies and the rare plants that rely on them.
Stephanie Perles, Plant Ecologist