A healthy marsh is one rich in plant
and animal diversity.
accomplish this, refuge staff use a variety of tools to mimic the dynamic
processes that, until recently, naturally occurred for thousands of years. Prescribed burns, grazing, managing water levels
and controlling exotic plants are just a few of the tools that are used to
manage a healthy, productive, and diverse marsh ecosystem.
food for wildlife includes the leafy portion of plants, flowers, and seeds, as
well as underground rhizomes and tubers. If wildfire is suppressed, years of dense
vegetation will shade the soil surface, preventing seeds of other plants from
germinating or surviving. Burning
removes dead plant matter and allows other species of plants to grow.
productive burn removes vegetation just above ground. It is usually conducted while there is still
some water on the surface. The water
prevents the soil from overheating and helps protect the plant’s root systems. After a fire, most vegetation will sprout from
the roots and the marsh is quickly covered with new growth. In addition, as the sunlight warms the soil,
many other plants will sprout from seed.
Grazing is used to increase the value of marsh
and wet prairies for wintering waterfowl, nesting mottled ducks, and many other
wildlife species. The combination of
prescribed fire and grazing sets back plant succession and produces a marsh
with greater plant diversity. Increased plant
diversity means more food is available for a wider variety of wildlife species.
Due to their high protein content, insects are
another key food item for wildlife. These
are an important diet component for young birds, promoting growth and proper development.
It is also important for adult birds, so
they can breed successfully. Standing
water in grazed areas will warm more quickly than areas with heavy growth. Warm water increases production and growth of
invertebrates, including insects.
Managing water levels, in combination with grazing,
prescribed burning, and controlling salinity concentrations, provide the best
conditions for producing native food for wildlife. Water is managed on the refuge with water
control structures, levees, and weirs. These
structures are also used to prevent saltwater from intruding into freshwater
Exotic plants are often fast growing and
highly invasive, outcompeting native plant species. Because of this, exotic plants can quickly
reduce the diversity of vegetation found in a healthy marsh or prairie. Less diversity in the plant community can
negatively affect wildlife. Water
hyacinth, Chinese tallow, and giant salvinia are a few examples of exotic plant
species controlled on the refuge.
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Blue crab are bottom-dwellers and can be found in every type of habitat in the Gulf of Mexico -- from back bays and estuaries to the saltiest and deepest of waters, they thrive in the low tide line or at depths of 120 feet. Throughout the various stages of their lives, they are an important food source for many species, including humans.