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Wet Meadows on the Platte River: Celebrating World Wetlands Day

Wet Meadows on the Platte River: Celebrating World Wetlands Day

The Crane Trust protects a unique form of wetland within the Central Platte River Valley (CPRV) called a “wet meadow”. Wet meadows are palustrine wetlands defined by their hydric soils and wetland plant communities, which are temporarily flooded in the spring and often dry at the surface by mid-summer yet retain saturated soils throughout much of the year. These ecosystems are dominated by mesic graminoids, including Emory’s sedge (Carex emoryi), woolly sedge (C. pellita), fox sedge (C. vulpinoidea), slimstem reedgrass (Calamagrostis stricta), and prairie cordgrass (Spartina pectinate). They also contain forbs like swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), common sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale), and great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica).

These wetlands provide habitat for a number of important wildlife species including waterbirds such as the Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis), Long-Billed Dowitcher (Limnodromus scolopaceus), Long-Billed Curlew (Numenius americanus), Marbled Godwit (Limosa fedoa), Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors),Wilson’s Snipe (Gallinago delicata), and the endangered Whooping Crane (Grus americana). These habitats represent one of the most limited habitat resources for spring staging Sandhill Cranes in the CPRV. They are important to Sandhill Cranes for several reasons, including as sources of animal protein (predominantly macroinvertebrates) and as key sites for social behavior, particularly pair bonding.

Wet meadows are also preferred foraging sites for Whooping Cranes, which have a highly omnivorous diet that includes nutsedge tubers (Cyperus spp.), frogs, snakes, and macroinvertebrates that can be found in CPRV wet meadows. Wet meadows are sustained by hydrological fluctuations in the Platte River that the Crane Trust works to protect by supporting sound water management policies at the state, regional, and federal levels. Wet meadows also depend on disturbances such as fire and grazing to prevent tree and shrub encroachment and promote biodiversity.

The Crane Trust works to implement these management regimes through an adaptive management framework, where we study the responses of specific management actions, and adjust our management accordingly for the best results. Over 75% of wet meadows in the CPRV have been lost, and many of the remaining ones have been altered. Your support allows us to continue to conserve and restore these important habitats.