Influence of lake levels on water extent, interspersion, and marsh birds in Great Lakes coastal wetlands

Tara Hohman, Thomas M Gehring

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Coastal wetlands in the Laurentian Great Lakes undergo frequent, sometimes dramatic, physical changes at varying spatial and temporal scales. Changes in lake levels and the juxtaposition of vegetation and open water greatly influence biota that use coastal wetlands. Several regional studies have shown that changes in vegetation and lake levels lead to predictable changes in the composition of coastal wetland bird communities. We report new findings of wetland bird community changes at a broader scale, covering the entire Great Lakes basin. Our results indicate that water extent and interspersion increased in coastal wetlands across the Great Lakes between low (2013) and high (2018) lake-level years, although variation in the magnitude of change occurred within and among lakes. Increases in water extent and interspersion resulted in a general increase in marsh-obligate and marsh-facultative bird species richness. Species like American bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus), common gallinule (Gallinula galeata), American coot (Fulica americana), sora (Porzana carolina), Virginia rail (Rallus limicola), and pied-billed grebe (Podilymbus podiceps) were significantly more abundant during high water years. Lakes Huron and Michigan showed the greatest increase in water extent and interspersion among the five Great Lakes while Lake Michigan showed the greatest increase in marsh-obligate bird species richness. These results reinforce the idea that effective management, restoration, and assessment of wetlands must account for fluctuations in lake levels. Although high lake levels generally provide the most favorable conditions for wetland bird species, variation in lake levels and bird species assemblages create ecosystems that are both spatially and temporally dynamic.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)534-545
JournalJournal of Great Lakes Research
StatePublished - 2021


Dive into the research topics of 'Influence of lake levels on water extent, interspersion, and marsh birds in Great Lakes coastal wetlands'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this