Muhlenbergia-Marl Prairies

Marl Prairies Muhlenbergia-Marl prairies are a product of their hydrology. They occur on areas of thin calcitic soil which overlays a limestone bedrock. The calcitic soil is formed by submerged periphyton. In short hydroperiod prairies, inundated for 3 to 7 months, periphyton grows below the water line where there is adequate sunlight. This is in contrast to the longer hydroperiod prairies where periphyton is able to grow on the surface of the water. In these short hydroperiod prairies, the water contains a higher amount of dissolve calcium which is incorporated into the periphyton by blue-green algae.

When the periphyton dies back the calcium crystallizes and re-forms the calcitic soil crust as the organic material quickly oxidizes. This oxidation of organic material only occurs in these short hydroperiod prairies. These prairies are dominated by a single grass species - muhly grass (Muhlenbergia filipes) which provides ideal breeding habitat for the Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow.

Dotted across the prairie landscape are occasionally hammocks of trees species. These areas are formed due to a slight increase in elevation which in turn decreases the hydroperiod. The decrease in hydroperiod allows for the establishment of trees. This increase in elevation may be due to slower weathering of the surrounding rock by water flow. The hammocks usually can consist of tropical hardwoods.


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