Plants and Animals

Diverse Plant & Animal Communities Support a Healthy Watershed 

Since the dawn of life on earth, our natural world has been in a state of continual evolution and change. Natural disasters, climate change, and the actions of human inhabitants have led to mass extinctions, large-scale migrations, and the rise and fall of species across our planet. All of these actions impact the plant and animal communities that exist within watersheds.

In more recent times, the land around the Sugar River watersheds that our local Native American tribes knew were drastically changed by European emigrants who settled in their midst and turned the immense stretches of prairie and forested land to agriculture use. In modern times, many of us still don’t fully realize the impact of our actions on our natural world and plant and animal communities. Nor do we realize that those actions have multiple and far-reaching consequences in ways we never anticipated.

Red Admiral Butterfly Visiting a Purple Coneflower

Our natural world exists in community. Even in the smallest ecosystem, plant and animal communities are interdependent and need each other for survival. In watersheds, plant and animal communities are intrinsically bound together. When habitat is altered or destroyed, the plants and animals associated with that habitat are forced to adapt, move to a new habitat, or die off.

A good example is the monarch butterfly habitat. Monarchs must have milkweed on which to lay their eggs because the hatched larvae only eat milkweed. If the milkweed is killed by roadside spraying or removed for any reason, monarch butterfly populations suffer. Another example is when predators such as wolves, coyotes, and birds of prey are killed off, their intended victims tend to overpopulate their habitat, devour and destroy their plant communities, and become nuisances. The balance is broken and recovery is difficult.

Many problems within watersheds with invasive species of plants and animals can be traced to the introduction of plants and animals not native to our country. Think zebra mussels, Asian carp, nutria, python, emerald ash borer, gypsy moth, dandelion, garlic mustard, the European elm bark beetle, dame's rocket, Japenese honeysuckle and purple loosestrife to name a few. The common thread is that they have no natural checks to maintain balance in their populations.

Maintaining a balance between plant and animal communities is all about maintaining a well-functioning, healthy watershed. Many plant and animal communities in local streams, rivers, and lakes are suffering from excessive algae growth. Runoff from agriculture producers, lawns, city streets and county roads, septic systems, and sewage treatment plants is rich in phosphorus and nitrogen. Too often, it ends up being washed into our streams, rivers, and lakes. When the algae dies, the water’s oxygen is depleted in the decaying process. The lack of oxygen in the water causes many fish and macroinvertebrates (small animals without backbones) to struggle and die, leaving a “dead zone” that no longer supports a healthy and balanced plant and animal community.

The LSRWA has a volunteer water quality monitoring program that trains local citizens how to collect data from designated monitoring sites throughout the watershed. Information is collected for six important water quality criteria: temperature, water transparency, dissolved oxygen levels, macroinvertebrate numbers and types, habitat assessment, and stream flow. As data is gathered and analyzed, it gives us a benchmark of overall water quality in the various sections of our watershed, how that may impact our plant and animal communities, and forms the basis for restoration and remediation efforts. This is exciting and rewarding work that is going on in watersheds across the state and country. For more information, go to our Programs section, or go to Wisconsin's Citizen-Based Water Monitoring Network.

This is just one of the many ways that the LSRWA is working to ensure that the watershed has healthy and balanced ecosystems that support clean water, animal diversity, healthy soils, and year-round enjoyment of our precious natural resources.

Exploring the watershed is the best way to see first-hand what’s really going on. Get involved!