, Volume 647, Issue 1, pp 127–144 | Cite as

Water-level regulation and coastal wetland vegetation in the upper St. Lawrence River: inferences from historical aerial imagery, seed banks, and Typha dynamics

  • John M. FarrellEmail author
  • Brent A. Murry
  • Donald J. Leopold
  • Alison Halpern
  • Molly Beland Rippke
  • Kevin S. Godwin
  • Sasha D. Hafner


We evaluated habitat changes of tributary (drowned river mouth) wetlands in the upper St. Lawrence River with analysis of pre-and post-regulation water levels and historical vegetation reconstruction from aerial photographs. In addition, the germination response of transplanted wetland soil was compared to understand responses to moist versus saturated hydrology. Typha stem density was sampled in reference sites under the influence of water-level regulation by the International Joint Commission (IJC) and compared to treatment sites where installed control structures held levels (<0.7 m) higher. Major hydrologic changes due to regulation included a reduction of inter-annual variability with a reduction in peak levels and periodic lows, leading to a dampening of 30–40 year water-level cycles. Wetland photo interpretation indicated that flooded and mixed habitat categories were apparent at all sites for pre-regulation in 1948, but post-regulation photos (1972 and 1994) showed encroachment of robust emergent (Typha angustifolia, T. latifolia, and T. x glauca) in these habitats. Vegetation surveys (7 years, 2001–2007) indicated that reference and treatment sites were dominated by Typha, but mean stem densities were not statistically different. Typha stem density, however, declined in response to decreased summer water level. Periodic summer low water levels coupled with higher winter levels (that promote muskrat activity) were hypothesized to have the greatest effect on reducing Typha density. Seed-bank analysis indicated that a greater diversity of plant species germinated in mesic (moist) conditions than in the saturated treatment (flooded), where Typha was the dominant seedling component. Altered hydrologic regimes and invasive Typha have had a substantial effect on habitat structure within coastal wetlands and inferences from local management of levels provide useful guidance for future system-wide regulation.


Flow regime Water levels management Cattail Habitat Restoration 



This research was supported primarily by the Great Lakes Protection Fund Grant WR537 and a Federal Aid in Sportfish Restoration Grant FA-5-R administered by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) and grants from the International Joint Commission Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Water Levels Study. We thank the numerous volunteers and significant others too numerous to list; without their time and patience, this research would not have been possible. This research is a contribution of the Thousand Islands Biological Station.


  1. Baedke, S. J. & T. A. Thompson, 2000. A 4,700 year record of lake level and isostasy for Lake Michigan. Journal of Great Lakes Research 26: 416–426.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Baldwin, A. H., M. S. Egnotovich & E. Clarke, 2001. Hydrologic change and vegetation of tidal freshwater marshes: field, greenhouse, and seed-bank experiments. Wetlands 21(4): 519–531.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Batzer, D. P. & R. R. Sharitz, 2007. Ecology of Freshwater and Estuarine Wetlands. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA, USA.Google Scholar
  4. Beland, M., 2003. Holocene vegetation changes in a St. Lawrence River coastal wetland and surrounding uplands: effects of climate change and anthropogenic disturbance. Master’s Thesis, State University of New York, College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Syracuse, New York.Google Scholar
  5. Bellrose, F. C., 1950. The relationship of muskrat populations to various marsh and aquatic plants. Journal of Wildlife Management 14: 299–315.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bellrose, F. C. & L. G. Brown, 1941. The effect of fluctuating water levels on the muskrat population of the Illinois River Valley. Journal of Wildlife Management 5: 206–212.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bishop, R. A., R. D. Andrews & R. J. Bridges, 1979. Marsh management and its relationship to vegetation, waterfowl, and muskrats. Proceedings of the Iowa Academy of Science 86: 50–56.Google Scholar
  8. Caldwell, R., & D. Fay, 2002. Lake Ontario Pre-project outlet hydraulic relationship final report. Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Water Levels Study Report, International Joint Commission.Google Scholar
  9. Clark, W. R., 1994. Habitat selection by muskrats in experimental marshes undergoing succession. Canadian Journal of Zoology 72: 675–680.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Clark, W. R., 2000. Ecology of muskrats in prairie wetlands. In Murkin, H. R., A. G. van der Valk & W. R. Clark (eds), Prairie Wetland Ecology: The Contribution of the Marsh Ecology Research Program. Iowa State University Press, Iowa: 287–313.Google Scholar
  11. Clark, W. R. & D. W. Kroeker, 1993. Population dynamics of muskrats in experimental marshes at Delta, Manitoba. Canadian Journal of Zoology 71: 1620–1628.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cohen, B. P. & J. E. Robinson, 1975. Cyclic fluctuations in water levels of Lake Ontario. Computers & Geosciences 1: 105–108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cooper, J. E., J. V. Mead, J. M. Farrell & R. G. Werner, 2008. Coexistence of pike (Esox lucius) and muskellunge (E.masquinongy) during early life and the implications of habitat change. Hydrobiologia 601: 41–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. David, P. G., 1996. Changes in plant communities relative to hydrologic conditions in the Florida Everglades. Wetlands 16: 1–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Dynesius, M. & C. Nilsson, 1994. Fragmentation and flow regulation of river systems in the northern third of the world. Science 266: 753–762.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Environmental Protection Agency and the Government of Canada. 1995. The Great Lakes: An Environmental Atlas and Resource Book, 3rd Ed. Great Lakes National Program Office, Chicago, Ill: 49 pp.Google Scholar
  17. Errington, P. L., 1961. Muskrats and Marsh Management. Wildlife Management Institution Publication. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln: 183 pp.Google Scholar
  18. Euliss N. H. Jr., J. W. LaBaugh, L. H. Fredrickson, D. M. Mushet, M. K. Laubhan, G. A. Swanson, T. C. Winter, D. O. Rosenberry & R. D. Nelson, 2004. The wetland continuum: a conceptual framework for interpreting biological studies. Wetlands 24: 448–458.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Farrer, E. C. & D. E. Goldberg, 2009. Litter drives ecosystem and plant community changes in cattail invasion. Ecological Applications 19: 398–412.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Gathman, J. P., D. A. Albert & T. M. Burton, 2005. Rapid plant community response to water level peak in northern Lake Huron coastal wetlands. Journal of Great Lakes Research 31: 160–170.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Geis, J. W. & J. L. Kee, 1977. Coastal wetlands along Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River in Jefferson County, New York. State University of New York, College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Syracuse, New York.Google Scholar
  22. Gleason, R. A. & A. Cronquist, 1991. Manual of Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada, New York Botanical Garden. Bronx, NY.Google Scholar
  23. Grace, J. B., 1989. Effects of water depth on Typha latifolia and Typha domingensis. American Journal of Botany 76: 762–768.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Grace, J. B. & J. S. Harrison, 1986. The biology of Canadian weeds. Typha latifolia L., Typha angustifolia L., and Typha x glauca Godr. Canadian Journal of Plant Science 66: 361–379.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Grace, J. B. & R. G. Wetzel, 1982. Niche differentiation between two rhizomatous plant species: Typha latifolia and Typha angustifolia. Canadian Journal of Botany 60: 46–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hogg, E. H. & R. W. Wein, 1988. The contribution of Typha components to floating mat buoyancy. Ecology 69(4): 1025–1031.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hudon, C., 1997. Impact of water level fluctuations on St. Lawrence River aquatic vegetation. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 54: 2853–2865.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. International Lake Ontario Study Board. 2006. Options for managing Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River water levels and flows. Final Report by the International Lake Ontario – St. Lawrence River Study Board, International Joint Commission.Google Scholar
  29. Jansson, R., C. Nilsson, M. Dynesius & E. Andersson, 2000. Effects of river regulation on river-margin vegetation: a comparison of eight boreal rivers. Ecological Applications 10: 203–224.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Keddy, P. A., 2000. Wetland Ecology Principles and Conservation. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.Google Scholar
  31. Keddy, P. A. & A. A. Reznicek, 1986. Great Lakes vegetation dynamics: the role of fluctuating water levels and buried seeds. Journal Great Lakes Research 12: 25–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Keough, J. R., T. A. Thompson, G. R. Guntenspergen & D. A. Wilcox, 1999. Hydrogeomorphic factors and ecosystem responses in coastal wetlands of the Great Lakes. Wetlands 19: 821–834.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Krusi, B. O. & R. W. Wein, 1988. Experimental studies on the resiliency of floating Typha mats in a freshwater marsh. Journal of Ecology 76: 60–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Lacki, M. J., W. T. Peneston, K. B. Adams, F. D. Vogt & J. C. Houppert, 1990. Summer foraging patterns and diet selection of muskrats inhabiting a fen wetland. Canadian Journal of Zoology 68: 1163–1167.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Mills, E. L., S. B. Smith & J. L. Forney, 1981. The St. Lawrence River in winter: population structure, biomass, and pattern of its primary and secondary food web components. Hydrobiolgia 79: 65–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Poff, N. L., J. D. Allan, M. B. Bain, J. R. Karr, K. L. Prestegaard, B. D. Richter, R. E. Sparks & J. C. Stromberg, 1997. A paradigm for river conservation and restoration. BioScience 47: 769–783.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Revenga, C., J. Brunner, N. Henninger, K. Kassem & R. Payne, 2000. Pilot Analysis of Global Ecosystems: Freshwater systems. World Resources Institute (WRI), Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  38. Richter, B. D., R. Mathews, D. L. Harrison & R. Wigington, 2003. Ecologically sustainable water management: managing river flows for ecological integrity. Ecological Applications 13: 206–224.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. SAS Institute Inc., 1998. SAS/STAT User’s Guide, Release 6.03 Edition. Cary, NC: 1028 pp.Google Scholar
  40. Sodja, R. S., & K. L. Solberg, 1993. Management and control of cattails, No. 13.4.13 in the Waterfowl Management Handbook, Office of Information Transfer, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Ft. Collins, CO: 8 pp.Google Scholar
  41. Takos, M. J., 1947. A semi-quantitative study of muskrat food habits. Journal of Wildlife Management 11: 331–339.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Thurber, J. M., R. O. Peterson & T. D. Drummer, 1991. The effect of regulated lake levels on muskrats, Ondatra zibethicus, in Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota. Canadian Field-Naturalist 105: 34–40.Google Scholar
  43. Toner, J. A., 2006. Muskrat house abundance and cattail use in upper St. Lawrence River tributary wetlands: modeling the effects of water level regulation. Master’s Thesis, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Syracuse, New York.Google Scholar
  44. Toner, J.A., J. M. Farrell & J. V. Mead, 2010. Muskrat abundance responses to water-level regulation within freshwater coastal wetlands. Wetlands (in press).Google Scholar
  45. Tremolieres, M., J. M. Sanchez-Perez, A. Schnitzler & D. Schmitt, 1998. Impact of river management history on the community structure, species composition and nutrient status in the Rhine alluvial hardwood forest. Plant Ecology 135: 59–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. van der Valk, A. G., 1981. Succession in wetlands: a Gleasonian approach. Ecology 62: 688–696.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Warr, S. J., K. Thompson & M. Kent, 1993. Seed banks as a neglected area of biogeographic research: a review of literature and sampling techniques. Progress in Physical Geography 17: 329–347.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Water Survey of Canada, 1990. Historical Streamflow Summary, Ontario. Environment Canada, Water Survey of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario.Google Scholar
  49. Whillans, T. H., 1982. Changes in marsh area along the Canadian shore of Lake Ontario. Journal of Great Lakes Research 8: 570–577.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Whillans, T. H., 1996. Historic and comparative perspectives on rehabilitation of marshes as habitat for fish in the lower Great Lakes Basin. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 53(Supplement 1): 58–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Wilcox, D. A., 1995. Wetland and aquatic macrophytes as indicators of anthropogenic hydrologic disturbance. Natural Areas Journal 15: 240–248.Google Scholar
  52. Wilcox, D. A. & S. J. Nichols, 2008. The effect of water-level fluctuations on plant zonation in a Saginaw Bay, Lake Huron wetland. Wetlands 28: 487–501.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Wilcox, D. A. & Y. Xie, 2007. Predicting wetland plant community responses to proposed water-level-regulation plans for Lake Ontario: GIS-based modeling. Journal of Great Lakes Research 33(4): 751–773.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Wilcox, D. A. & Y. Xie, 2008. Predicted effects of proposed new regulation plans on sedge/grass meadows of Lake Ontario. Journal of Great Lakes Research 34(4): 745–754.Google Scholar
  55. Wilcox, D. A., J. W. Ingram, K. P. Kowalski, J. E. Meeker, M. L. Carlson, Y. Xie, G. P. Grabas, K. L. Holmes & N. J. Patterson, 2005. Evaluation of water level regulation influences on Lake Ontario and Upper St. Lawrence River coastal wetland plant communities: final project report. International Joint Commission, Ottawa, ON and Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  56. Wilcox, D. A., K. P. Kowalski, H. Hoare, M. L. Carlson & H. Morgan, 2008. Cattail invasion of sedge/grass meadows and regulation of Lake Ontario water levels: photointerpretation analysis of sixteen wetlands over five decades. Journal of Great Lakes Research 34(2): 301–323.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Woo, I. & J. B. Zedler, 2002. Can nutrients alone shift a sedge meadow towards the invasive Typha x glauca? Wetlands 22: 509–521.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Zar, J. H., 1999. Biostatistical Analysis, 4th Ed. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs: 663 pp.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • John M. Farrell
    • 1
    Email author
  • Brent A. Murry
    • 2
  • Donald J. Leopold
    • 1
  • Alison Halpern
    • 1
    • 3
  • Molly Beland Rippke
    • 1
    • 4
  • Kevin S. Godwin
    • 1
    • 5
  • Sasha D. Hafner
    • 1
    • 6
  1. 1.Department of Environmental and Forest BiologyState University of New York, College of Environmental Science and ForestrySyracuseUSA
  2. 2.Central Michigan University Biological Station and Biology DepartmentCentral Michigan UniversityMount PleasantUSA
  3. 3.Washington State Noxious Weed Control BoardOlympiaUSA
  4. 4.Michigan Department of Environmental QualityWater Bureau, Surface Water Assessment SectionLansingUSA
  5. 5.Department of BiologyCoastal Carolina UniversityConwayUSA
  6. 6.United States Department of AgricultureAgricultural Research ServiceUniversity ParkUSA

Personalised recommendations