The Habitats of Lambton County Pt. 1

The Habitats of Lambton County
A five part series from Return the Landscape will feature a monthly article covering the five habitats found in Lambton County:

Tall Grass Prairie, Wetlands, The Carolinian Forest, The Rare Oak Savannahs & Coastal Dunes & Beaches.

Part 1: Tallgrass Prairie

There are 3 different types of prairies in North America, shortgrass, mixedgrass and tallgrass prairies. As you travel east from the dry leeward side of the rocky mountains there is an increase in the amount of annual precipitation resulting in taller growing species of prairie flora. It gets its name from the dominant grasses which grow over 2 metres tall. Two of the best places in Ontario to see and experience TGP today are at the Ojibway Prairie Park in Windsor and Walpole Island First Nations.

TGP is an open habitat with typically no trees or no more than one tree per acre. Ontario TGP supports a great diversity of native grasses, wildflowers, insects, birds and other wildlife species. There are over 250 species of plants in Ontario’s TGP.

Of course, it’s all about the specialized plants. Many TGP plants are warm season species that mature later in spring than most other plants, especially alien cool season plants. Most of the TGP plants have deep root systems making them tolerant of fire, drought and grazing. TGP is basically fire dependent. Fire prevents woody plants, trees and shrubs, from growing and turning prairies into woodlands. Low annual precipitation, droughts and grazing by large herds of bison, elk and deer (historically),also played important roles in sustaining prairie habitats.

Prairie wildflowers have showy blossoms to attract pollinating insects which are in decline. Prairie (grassland) birds are also in decline, especially in TGP. That is mainly because of habitat loss. Of the estimated one million acres of TGP once found in North America, less than 1% remains. TGP is one of the most endangered ecosystems in North America. 20% of Ontario’s rare species and species at risk are found in TGP habitats. Even once common grassland birds such as eastern meadowlark, northern bobwhite and bobolink, are now species at risk. The large grazing mammals, such as elk and bison are extirpated, gone from the TGP habitats. It would be difficult to reintroduce these animals to North America’s Tallgrass Prairies because the remnants are too small, fragmented and disconnected. Hopefully future conservation efforts will restore some large areas of TGP habitat throughout its previous range. The Nature Conservancy has a pilot project in Oklahoma to do this. We can do it if we can find the space. We still have most of the pieces somewhere.

So we all can help and play a role in saving TGP. Grow some TGP wildflowers in your home landscapes to preserve these species and support pollinating insects and seed eating birds. Support organizations such as Lambton Wildlife and Ontario Nativescapes (RLSN) in their work to protect and restore these special habitats. Protecting the remaining TGP is a responsibility we must all embrace.

by Larry Cornelis
Return The Landscape