The Sugar River Watershed is well known for its wealth of biodiversity. But what is biodiversity?
Biodiversity can mean one of several things depending on scale and context. Taking the largest view, biodiversity refers to the variations of all forms of life on Earth, from the genetic level up to the species and community levels. However, biodiversity can be measured on a smaller scale too, such as the level of biodiversity found in a natural area or in a watershed. Species richness, or the number of plant and animal species found in an area, is often a measure of that area’s biodiversity.
Maintaining a high degree of biodiversity is important because of interactions in nature that require many species to depend on other species in one way or another. In other words, biodiversity is important to maintaining the web of life. If one species goes extinct, it could have a dramatic effect on other species that persist. Interactions between and among plants, animals, and even soil biota can be complex and are often not fully understood, so conserving the entire biodiversity of a region is an important endeavor.
Humans depend on the diversity of life. A healthy biodiverse ecosystem benefits people in many ways. From enjoying the beauty of a rare wildflower or endangered landscape, to the protection of soil and water that support the production of our food and the persistence of rare ecosystems, the level of biodiversity of a watershed has wide-ranging implications for the quality of life that we enjoy.
Evidence of the significant biodiversity found within the Sugar River Watershed abounds. The National Audubon Society recognizes portions of the Sugar River Watershed as Important Bird Area, home to a number of rare bird species and critical resting spot for migrants. According to the Wisconsin DNR, examples of rare bird species that occur here include yellow-throated warblers (Dendroica dominica), cerulean warblers (Dendroica cerulea), prothonotary warblers (Protonotaria citrea), yellow-breasted chat (Icteria virens), yellow-crowned night heron (Nycticorax violaceous). In addition, the Illinois Natural History Survey recognizes the Sugar River as a Resource Rich Area, noting that over 150 different bird species have been documented at the Sand Bluff Bird Observatory.
Twenty-seven species of fish were found in a recent study in the Middle and Lower Sugar River floodplain, including the state-endangered starhead topminnow (Fundulus dispar). Additional notable species found in the watershed include Blanchard’s cricket frog (Acris crepitans blanchardi), riverine clubtail (Stylurus amnicola) and russet-tipped clubtail dragonfly (S. plagiatus).
Please visit our Plants and Animals pages for more information on the biodiversity found within the watershed.