Climate experts are predicting a northward shift in forests and wetlands in the coming decades. In order to test how and if that is happening they must establish a record of past and current plant cover for historic and future comparison. To aid this important work the Natural Resources Foundation is contributing to a project that began over 50 years ago in the Brule River Watershed of Douglas County, Wisconsin.

Thanks to support provided by the Friends of the Brule River and Forest Conservation Fund, this area will undergo a comprehensive plant survey led by the University of Wisconsin Superior Lake Superior Research Institute.

brule river vegetative study climate change on plants

Photo used with permission from University of Wisconsin Superior.

Collecting Historic Data

Studies of the watershed first began in the early 1940’s and will continue with this effort to study and record the current biodiversity of plant communities in the Brule River watershed. The study is a collaborative effort with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, University of Wisconsin Madison, and numerous other agencies and organizations.

Throughout the project, which is estimated to be completed by 2018, botanists and ecologists from around the state, as well as undergraduate students from UW Superior, will sample and assess plant species found within the river and the surrounding forest.

Getting Help from Volunteers

Incorporating a citizen science approach to the project, researchers will host a series of “Botany Blitzes” to engage volunteers in assisting with specimen gathering and identification. Using these specimens, the team will compile archives reflective of each ecosystem type to be used in future research. The researchers will also use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software to produce maps of current and historical vegetation cover to show how the landscape has changed since the first public land survey in 1852.

The Friends of Brule River and Forest Conservation Fund is one of the endowment funds held by the Natural Resources Foundation’s Wisconsin Conservation Endowment, which provides permanent support for Wisconsin’s lands, waters and wildlife.