Specialized Habitats And Microenvironments

This is kinda a spin-off from the Today In Nature thread, which I slightly hijacked by posting about Wakehurst Place’s attempts to recreate a North American Prairie about 30 miles south of London (!). Well, bless them for trying, and here’s a photo of the habitat in question:

Google Photos

Link to the discussion it provoked. Which leads me to the wider subject of specialized habitats and microenvironments, which I find fascinating. Elsewhere on the estate, Wakehurst has a managed wetland. Here’s a photo.

Google Photos

We’re down in the Loder valley here, and I don’t know whether that environment is recreated or restored or simply maintained; and really, I don’t much care – I find these habitats interesting, and I’m simply pleased that they exist and are cared for. Niche plants, insects, birds, amphibians and more… what’s not to like?

Yesterday I cycled out on my annual trip to a real oddity. Violet helleborines are typically found under beech trees on chalk. Years ago I found a colony on …clay, I guess, under conifers and other evergreens. They are confined to an area of just five or six square meters, never growing outside that area. Microenvironments are weird – these are orchids, and who knows, maybe just below the surface there are old discarded building materials which affect local soil pH? Or maybe it’s something else. This year there is just the one spike (the weather has been weird). Here it is, still in bud. As always, click on the photo for the full picture:

Google Photos

So: these are some of my favorite local habitats and microenvironments. I would be interested to hear about the ones that you enjoy.

j

I’ll give this a little bump, just in case there is any interest out there.

Today we were on Shoreham beach (head pretty much due south from London 'til you hit the sea). At the seaside, Sunday afternoon, early August, peak summer holiday season - it’ll be packed for sure, right?

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For reference, we’re looking east, and that’s Brighton in the far distance.

OK, so it was blowing a gale. But it’s a strange (and pleasing) thing just how quiet the beach usually is - which is good, because it’s a nature reserve.

In June 2006 Shoreham Beach was declared a Local Nature Reserve (LNR). This is due to its unusual vegetated shingle habitat. There are a few other vegetated shingle beaches in the South East of England, and even fewer in New Zealand and Japan. Making Shoreham Beach a rare habitat worldwide…

…Vegetated shingle is characterised by specialised plants that have adapted to survive in harsh coastal conditions where lack of fresh water and nutrients are compounded by fierce winds and impacted by waves. Shingle habitats are also particularly important for invertebrates and for some breeding. They are globally rare because most coastal shingle is too mobile to support plant communities.

Well, there’s been no lack of water this summer; round these parts it’s been the wettest for years (by a distance). As a result the tussocks of sea kale have thrived and look remarkably lush and verdant.

Google Photos

Google Photos

From my perspective, wall lizards are the most interesting thing the beach has to offer - they seem to live under the boardwalk, and we’ve seen them several times this year. There ain’t a lot of reptile species in the UK, and any sighting is a bit of a treat.

j

It’s not that I have no interest, I find both your posts very interesting, it’s just that I have nothing to contribute. Regretable. Everything around Brussels seems managed (my ignorance may contribute to not seeing the obvious/intereting parts). But I want to explore Berlin’s surroundings 30-something years after reunification next year, when I finally move back. I hope to find mushrooms and amphibians. Any suggestion would be welcome.

Hey, thanks for the encouragement!

You know how it can be, sometimes you post something and you just don’t know if people are thinking, great, I’ll contribute next time I get to a reserve; or if it’s what is this guy going on about?

Good to know you liked the posts. :grinning:

j

I also enjoyed your thread, and I put it on my watch list.

There’s a beautiful protected natural area within walking distance from where I live in Cape Town, but it’s winter here – very cold and rainy, and there’s not much to see at this time of year. I’ll see if I can take some photos in the summer.

I think these are the same, or related to the lizards we see here. Central Switzerland tends to be a bit cooler than sunny Italy, but theree are plenty of these lizards hiding along the paved paths and rocky areas. We saw a slow worm in our own garden last week, which we had never seen before, and we’ve been here 20 years.

Not my own pictures, but Vitznau in central Switzerland has a microclimate, which means it has palm trees and other plants which prefer a warmer climate. Link

What? This time of year is great for fynbos. The pincushions are blooming and plenty of flowers.

Granted, it is harder to motivate climbing the mountain in rainy weather but it is really beautiful.

As for microclimates, to address the OP. The Cape Floristic Region is one of the most diverse regions in the world. You can hardly go anywhere on Table Mountain (and the various nearby nature reserves) that is NOT a specialised microclimate suited to one or other of the 9 000 or some endemic species.

The afore-mentioned pincushions ( Leucospermum cordifolium) are a great example. I saw one or two on my last hike, but I know of a small forest of them on a different part of the mountain.

Not so much here at the moment. I’m fairly far south in the Southern Peninsula.

But you’re right that I don’t feel motivated to go walking up steep and muddy mountain paths in the cold and wind right now! :slightly_smiling_face:

Around here are “goat prairies” steep areas where the low moisture content of the slopes, the winter freeze-thaw cycle, and the thin layer of soil help to keep goat prairies free of trees.

Brian

I remember going to the Desert of Maine as a kid.

Wow, that’s a complex network of habitats. I’m envious.

Following up on @N9IWP’s and @Paintcharge’s posts, turns out each of those habitats has a wiki page.

j

My mom maintains a little patch of milkweed, about 6’ wide by maybe 30’ long, for the benefit of monarch butterflies. It’s on city-owned land, and I don’t think she ever formally asked permission, but she’s managed to get the city grounds maintenance folks to not mow it under.

Among her many other acts of guerilla gardening.

A decade or more ago I fought my way (by phone, you understand) through layers of local government bureaucracy to find The Guy who could reschedule the mowing of road verges to protect a tiny microenvironment I had found - bee orchids growing many miles from the nearest obvious chalk. None came up this year, but that happens - and as I keep saying, the weather round here this year has been weird.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ophrys_apifera

j

I just found a couple of 2015 photos of my bee orchid microenvironment. As ever with Google Photo links, you need to click on the photo to see the full image. Even then, they’re not very good photos. But Damn! I found these flowers, and I love 'em.

Google Photos

Google Photos

j

I’ll add the Mink River Estuary:
https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/Lands/naturalareas/index.asp?SNA=218

Confession: my description of a goat prairie came directly from the wikipedia entry.

Brian

There are an awful lot of shingle beaches not far from us; and having posted about the vegetated shingle of Shoreham, that sort of habitat had been on my mind. Surely there must be other examples out there? So I had been doing a bit of google earthing but finding nothing - apart from at Worthing. We were there yesterday.

Google Photos

Google Photos

So the habitat is there - just not as rich or extensive as Shoreham. However, what Worthing is more notable for, in terms of habitat, is something I have never seen; nor am I likely to see it. It is, however, very interesting. MCZ = Marine Conservation Zone.

j

Wakehurst American Prairie Update. It’s got a lot more colorful:

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I keep hanging around, hoping to accost a gardener in that area, in order to ask if there will regular burning. No luck so far.

j

A pleasing reed bed on the shores of the lake in Petworth Park, Sussex.

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And here’s a surprise - today I learned of the existence of this place:

A second prairie in Sussex - lordy. I will try to visit and report back

j

Prairie update: we got out to the Sussex Prairie Garden and… it’s a garden. I suppose it’s an homage to prairie, but that’s as far as it goes. A nice enough place, but not what I was hoping for.

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One thing I will say though - they have created a fabulous environment for butterflies, and especially for bees. Just the sheer number of bees was wonderful, and it was fascinating to be able to see how different bees specialized in exploiting different flowers.

Via google photos - click for the full photo.

Google Photos

Google Photos

Returning to the subject of actual faux-prairies, we were at Wakehurst yesterday and discovered that they will be cutting (rather than burning) the prairie. This information came from someone in the ticket office (“See it while you can!”) so I didn’t get any more detailed information. Cutting was scheduled for today or tomorrow. Here’s a last look (for this year):

Google Photos

j

There are flowers on my farm that are pretty micro-climate.

Nashville breadroot grows in only a few counties in the American Southeast. “found only in limestone cedar glades in two northwest Georgia counties, four counties in Alabama, and in several counties in middle Tennessee. It is considered rare in both Alabama and Georgia.”

Cedar Gladecress, found in wet cedar and limestone glades. Only found in a handful of Tennessee counties. And the creek bed on my farm.

StG