Water-level change is integral to the structure and function of Great Lakes coastal wetlands, and many studies document predictable relationships between vegetation and water level. However, anthropogenic stressors, such as invasive species, land-use change, and water-level stabilization, interact to shift the historical cycle (of native vegetation migration up- and down-slope) toward dominance by invasive Typha species. Knowing from earlier studies that water-level stabilization alters the historical vegetation cycle, we asked if similar shifts can occur where water levels are not stabilized. Using historical aerial photographs of three coastal wetlands (in Lake Michigan's Green Bay, Wisconsin), we determined that habitat dominated by Typha species has expanded to eliminate wet meadow habitat. Between 1974 and 1992, linear regressions showed strong, significant relationships of both meadow area (R2 ≥ 0.894; p < 0.02) and marsh area (R2 ≥ 0.784; p < 0.05) to water level in all three wetlands. In 2000, meadow area was below that predicted by the historical pattern due to the landward advance of marsh habitat during a year of decreasing water levels. In the same period, land use in the wetland watersheds converted from agriculture to urban. Urbanization and the replacement of native Typha latifolia by the invasive hybrid Typha xglauca may have overwhelmed the beneficial impact of water-level fluctuation. The documentation of vegetation shifts, as herein, is an essential step in the process of preserving and restoring ecological integrity.
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Vol. 33 • No. 2