The Vanishing Present Wisconsin's Changing Lands, Waters, and Wildlife
edited by Donald M. Waller and Thomas P. Rooney
University of Chicago Press, 2008
Cloth: 978-0-226-87171-4 | Paper: 978-0-226-87173-8 | Electronic: 978-0-226-87174-5
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226871745.001.0001


Straddling temperate forests and grassland biomes and stretching along the coastline of two Great Lakes, Wisconsin contains tallgrass prairie and oak savanna, broadleaf and coniferous forests, wetlands, natural lakes, and rivers. But, like the rest of the world, the Badger State has been transformed by urbanization and sprawl, population growth, and land-use change. For decades, industry and environment have attempted to coexist in Wisconsin—and the dynamic tensions between economic progress and environmental protection makes the state a fascinating microcosm for studying global environmental change.
The Vanishing Present brings together a distinguished set of contributors—including scientists, naturalists, and policy experts—to examine how human pressures on Wisconsin’s changing lands, waters, and wildlife have redefined the state’s ecology. Though they focus on just one state, the authors draw conclusions about changes in temperate habitats that can be applied elsewhere, and offer useful insights into future of the ecology, conservation, and sustainability of Wisconsin and beyond.
A fitting tribute to the home state of Aldo Leopold and John Muir, The Vanishing Present is an accessible and timely case study of a significant ecosystem and its response to environmental change.


Donald Waller is professor of botany and environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Thomas Rooney is assistant professor of biological sciences at Wright State University.


“Our cultural obsession with unlimited growth has a dark side and that is the inexorable environmental deterioration that accompanies economic expansion. Habitat destruction is obvious, but less obvious human interventions such as pollution, fire suppression, overabundant deer, and changes in forestry and agricultural practices all extract a price in lost biodiversity. Each disturbing chapter of this retrospective on Wisconsin’s priceless natural heritage is a reminder of how far we are as a society from achieving the nirvana of sustainable development.”
— John Terborgh, Duke University

“Ecology is a historical science—or should be, for we can’t understand the present or the future without some understanding of the past. In The Vanishing Present, Donald Waller and Thomas Rooney have put up a trail sign on where ecological overviews need to go. In conceiving and building this anthology, Waller and Rooney show that they are not just top-notch biologists, but rare visionaries, too.  Every region of North America needs such a work, not only in scope but in quality as well.”

— Dave Foreman, Executive Director of the Rewilding Institute and author of Rewilding North America

“Written by a collection of the world’s great ecologists, geographers, and wildlife biologists, The Vanishing Present provides an insightful and comprehensive synthesis of the natural and human history of the Wisconsin landscape. By applying an informed historical perspective to interpret the present and anticipate the future of this one region the authors address ecological questions and tackle conservation challenges that are of universal importance. This accessibly written and well-edited volume should be of great interest to professionals, students, and a broad readership interested in understanding the past changes in nature and conserving its many values into the future.”

— David Foster, Harvard University

“Don’t just read this book. Read it and do something about our environmental future. Fifty scientists share their knowledge of Wisconsin’s historical past, provide a contemporary view of a dynamic and changing present, and, lacking action, sketch an impoverished future. Study their insights to learn how we can modify our behavior. Join with them in the critical efforts to ensure our ecological health as they state, we owe it our state’s and our children’s future.”

— Harold C. Jordahl, Jr., Professor Emeritus, Department of Urban and Regional Planning, University of Wisconsin, Madison

"If you read one inspiring book in 2008, it should be the timely and significant new volume edited by Donald M. Waller and Thomas P. Rooney, entitled The Vanishing Present: Wisconsin’s Changing Lands, Waters, and Wildlife. As I read essays from fifty different scientists about biotic diversity from lichens to lakes, it was like being inside the neck of an hourglass, with the ability to look backward and forward. Just as an hourglass measures the passage of time, The Vanishing Present gives the reader an historical understanding of Wisconsin’s ecology, and the marked transformation it is presently experiencing as well as future impacts."
— Edith M. Kadlec, Open Spaces

"Every ecologist, land manager or policymaker in Wisconsin and adjacent areas will this book essential; those living in other parts of the world will wish they had something like it."
— Lee E. Frelich, Quarterly Review of Biology

"The Vanishing Present brings together a distinguished set of contributors . . . to examine how human pressures on Wisconsin's changing lands, waters, and wildlife have redefined the state's ecology. . . . . The authors draw conclusions about changes in temperate habitats that can be applied elsewhere, and offer useful insights into the future of the ecology, conservation, and sustainibility of Wisconsin and beyond."
— Northeastern Naturalist


List of Contributors

List of Illustrations

List of Plates

- Donald M. Waller, Thomas P. Rooney
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226871745.003.0001
[Wisconsin, environmental change, natural history, habitats, species, ecological change]
Wisconsin is changing. The past is gone, except as captured in memories, records, and artifacts. The present is measurable, but rapidly fading into the past. To understand the present, in ecology as in other endeavors, we need history. This book provides background and historical context for understanding the ecological changes that surround us. It aims to use knowledge about the state's natural history to evaluate the changes these habitats and species are undergoing. The nature of ecological change and the reasons behind the decision to focus the current study on Wisconsin are discussed. (pages 1 - 12)
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Part One: Perspectives


- Curt Meine
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226871745.003.0002
[Indian mounds, Wisconsin, Man Mound, ecological change, public land survey]
Man Mound Park protects something unique: a human-shaped effigy mound. At the time of Native/European contact in what is now Wisconsin, the landscape contained an estimated 15,000–20,000 Indian mounds. A succession of native societies had constructed the mounds over a 2,000-year period, from about 800 bc to 1200 ad. Over the last century and a half, agriculture and development have obliterated at least three-fourths of Wisconsin's Indian mounds. Of just nine known mounds built in the shape of a human or humanlike figure, Man Mound is the only one that survives in a relatively intact state. From Man Mound, we can look out and see that the history of Wisconsin's natural and human communities is woven together on Wisconsin's landscape. From here we can try to discern patterns in that relationship. This chapter begins with a review of the broad narrative of Wisconsin's past. It then discusses the impact of the advent of the public land survey on Wisconsin's landscapes and biodiversity. (pages 17 - 30)
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- John J. Magnuson
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226871745.003.0003
[ecological change, Lake Mendota, ice cover, records]
Change is all around us; the challenge is to see it or perhaps to remember it. Often we seem locked in an invisible present and an invisible place, oblivious to long-term changes occurring across the landscape. Even qualitatively our memories are fallible. Were hickory nuts less abundant this year than last? How abundant were they a decade ago, or when we were children? Quantitatively our sense of change is usually just plain wrong. We can recall the past and sense change only when we keep records. Lake Mendota's ice cover provides a good example. In the winter of 2005–6, ice cover persisted for 95 days, this is a rather uninteresting fact that provides no sense of change—the invisible present. With the full length of observation from 1855–56 to 2005–6, we see that even though ice cover in 2005–6 was about average for the most recent 10 years, it was shorter than each of the first 20 years of record. We also see that ice cover shortened by 1.9 days per decade over the 150 years or more slowly than over the last 50 years. Over the 150 years, ice covered Lake Mendota for as long as 161 days in 1881. This chapter argues that as we expand our view to include longer periods and broader areas, we lift the veil from the invisible present and invisible place. We gain a vantage point for glimpsing the changes going on around us. With this comes insights that we usually associate with age and wisdom. (pages 31 - 40)
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- Sarah D. Wright, Nina Leopold Bradley
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226871745.003.0004
[Aldo Leopold, agricultural sciences, phenology, climate change, Wisconsin]
Aldo Leopold embodies the legacy of conservation in Wisconsin. His beloved classic A Sand County Almanac is treasured as much for its landmark ethical ideas and literary merit as for the ecological principles it pioneered. A Sand County Almanac is not just an elegant narrative of the backyard soap operas played out by woodcocks or a series of elegies to the native flora. It has endeared those of us who cannot “live without wild things” because it challenges us to see in ways that deepen our connection to the landscapes we inhabit. By paying attention to the comings and goings of geese and keeping track of what's in flower, we come closer to realizing Aldo Leopold's vision of a Land Ethic, and our role in the “biotic community.” This chapter discusses the The Phenological Legacy of the Leopolds; Leopold's description of phenology as a “horizontal science” that incorporates information from many disciplines within the biological and agricultural sciences; Leopold records of phenological events; implications of climate change for relationships among species; and opportunities for education and collaboration in phenology. (pages 41 - 54)
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Part Two: Changing Plant Communities


- David J. Mladenoff, Lisa A. Schulte, Janine Bolliger
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226871745.003.0005
[forests, sediments, pollen grains, public land survey, ecological change, Wisconsin]
This chapter explores why the types of forests we see vary from place to place and over time. It relies on two types of historic records: the layers of sediment from lake bottoms that contain a 10,000-year accumulation of pollen grains and the written records from the individuals that conducted Wisconsin's public land survey in the mid-1800s. It shows that forests change constantly, through time and across space. The interplay of climate, the physical environment, natural events, and human history has shaped, and continue to shape, the forests that seen today. (pages 61 - 74)
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- Thomas P. Rooney, Donald M. Waller
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226871745.003.0006
[forests, forest habitats, native plant species, nonnative plants, biotic homogenization, deer, Wisconsin]
This chapter examines changes in Wisconsin's forests. It reports that most forests in northern Wisconsin have lost native plant species; that weedy, nonnative plants have begun to invade; and that these processes contribute to a pattern of “biotic homogenization” wherein sites are coming to resemble each other in composition. While several factors affect these trends, the loss of mature forest habitats combined with overabundant deer clearly contribute. (pages 75 - 90)
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- David Rogers, Thomas P. Rooney, Rich Henderson
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226871745.003.0007
[native plant diversity, Curtis surveys, homogenization, forest fragmentation, deer, fire suppression, oak savannas, oak woodlands]
This chapter examines changes in southern Wisconsin forests. It reports large declines in native plant diversity since the Curtis surveys, greater invasions of exotics, and more homogenization. Forest fragmentation and deer clearly play roles here, but so do the changes set in motion 150 years ago when fire suppression allowed oak woodlands to replace oak savannas. As tree canopies close with succession, these oak woodlands are further displaced by maples and other, more shade-tolerant trees. Shadier understories that rarely burn exclude, in turn, the oak seedlings that could regenerate oak woodlands along with the sun-loving forest herbs that once thrived there. (pages 91 - 102)
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- Mark K. Leach
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226871745.003.0008
[tall-grass prairies, southern Wisconsin, native species, prairie restoration]
This chapter examines what is left of prairies. Like savannas, the tall-grass prairies that once dominated the landscapes of southern Wisconsin have become one of the most threatened ecosystems in the country with less than 0.1% remaining. Many are aware of the efforts being invested in restoring prairie and savanna habitats. Fewer are aware of the fact that the precious few small remnant patches of prairie have lost many of their native species since the 1950s. Despite the depressing numbers, it is hoped that the patterns these losses reveal will help us learn how to better manage both the old and new prairies now under our care. Interest in science-based prairie restoration is growing, translating into some on-the-ground success stories. (pages 103 - 114)
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- Emmet J. Judziewicz
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226871745.003.0009
[Apostle Islands, Lake Superior, Grand Traverse Islands, Lake Michigan, habitats, archipelagoes, plant communities]
This chapter explores how the isolated plant communities of two archipelagos in the Great Lakes are changing. Both the Apostle Islands in Lake Superior and the Grand Traverse Islands in Lake Michigan have undergone great changes over the past 150 years, and both face similar threats (primarily from deer and invasive plants) today. The changes on the unprotected Grand Traverse Islands are more pronounced and have left the archipelago more biotically impoverished. While these islands may seem remote from most of us, they also stand as a synecdoche for the isolated patches of habitat that increasingly surround us. (pages 115 - 126)
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- James P. Bennett
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226871745.003.0010
[missing data, abundance, diversity, lichen flora]
One hundred and fifty years ago, anyone traveling cross-country in Wisconsin found lichens growing in abundance. Today, the only abundant lichens are weedy species on the trunks and branches of hardwoods and some rocks. A common theme in this book is the “missing baseline” problem—that without data on how abundant species were in the past and how they were distributed we cannot infer changes in their distribution and abundance. This chapter explores the “missing data” problem in detail, highlighting how little is actually known about the state's lichen flora. It suggests that scientists have only identified 85% of the species that occur in the state. In undercollected areas of the state, we may never know what once existed. Our ignorance also creates an ironic paradox: our lichen flora may continue to lose species even as our knowledge of the lichen flora and species lists grow. (pages 127 - 134)
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- Susan Will-Wolf, Matthew P. Nelsen
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226871745.003.0011
[lichen flora, substrates, environmental conditions, biotic homogenization, mature trees, bark lichens]
This chapter reviews some of what we know about lichens and their sensitivity to substrates and environmental conditions. It draws on both direct and indirect lines of evidence to infer that lichen flora has declined considerably in quantity and quality. Resurvey findings reveal conspicuous declines, including the disappearance of half the lichen species that once occurred in Madison over the past century. Conspicuous losses and biotic homogenization of bark lichens are also observed near a coal-fired power plant in central Wisconsin. Where lichen data are unavailable, changes in habitat are used to infer how the abundances of slow-growing species must have declined with the loss of mature trees and old growth forests. (pages 135 - 150)
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Part Three: Changing Waters and the Land-Water Interface


- James F. Kitchell, Greg G. Sass
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226871745.003.0012
[Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, fisheries management programs, sea lamprey, stocked Pacific salmon, lake trout, alewife, rainbow smelt, zebra mussels]
This chapter focuses on major changes in the food web dynamics of Lakes Superior and Michigan that arose due to fisheries management programs and nonnative species invasions. It emphasizes both native and nonnative species representing three trophic levels: (i) top predators in the food web (sea lamprey, stocked Pacific salmon, the native lake trout, and their prey); (ii) expansion of invading zooplankton-feeding fishes (alewife and rainbow smelt) at the middle of the food web; and (iii) declines in primary productivity following the invasion by zebra mussels. (pages 157 - 170)
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- David W. Marshall, John Lyons
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226871745.003.0013
[nongame fishes, distribution, agriculture, aquatic ecosystems, urbanization]
Our knowledge of the distribution of most Wisconsin nongame fishes is limited because they have not been frequently surveyed. Between 1974 and 1980, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) conducted the Fish Distribution Study. More recently, the WDNR began a new statewide fish survey in part to allow a rewrite of the landmark Fishes of Wisconsin book. This chapter compares the results of these two surveys to examine how nongame fishes have declined in selected small streams and lakes in the southernmost quarter of Wisconsin. This region is generally the most densely populated with a landscape dominated by intensive agriculture and urbanization. Although some high-quality aquatic ecosystems remain, findings suggest that, if current trends continue, the future of these ecosystems is precarious. A conservation strategy is proposed to help protect these ecosystems and their fish faunas. (pages 171 - 182)
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- Jim Meeker, Gary Fewless
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226871745.003.0014
[wetlands, water depth, habitat destruction, land use, hydrology, species invasion, purple loosestrife, exotic plant species]
Some of Wisconsin's most majestic wetlands occur along the shores of Lakes Michigan and Superior. This chapter describes these systems, noting that their diversity often hinges on regular disturbance events including shifts in water depth. It notes the difficulty of separating changes in these wetlands that represent these natural cycles and “pulse stability” from those due to long-term directional changes. Habitat destruction has already eliminated half the wetlands in Wisconsin, and alterations in land use and hydrology continue to degrade many of those that persist. Wetlands are also experiencing unprecedented waves of invasion from exotic plant species like reed canary grass and purple loosestrife threatening native wetland species and wetlands along both lakeshores. (pages 183 - 192)
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- Joy B. Zedler, Kenneth W. Potter
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226871745.003.0015
[inland wetlands, wetland acreage, herbaceous wetlands, sedimentation, livestock grazing]
This chapter examines changes in inland wetlands beginning with their glacial origins, extending through the past century of draining, filling, and dredging, and ending with current efforts to protect wetlands. It is difficult to estimate just how wetland acreage and quality have changed over the past 50 years given the scarcity of reliable baseline data. Like coastal wetlands, herbaceous wetlands face an onslaught of invasive species like reed canary grass whose impacts are often amplified by shifts in surface and groundwater flow, sedimentation, and livestock grazing. Although these threats are partially countered by federal and state policies to protect wetlands, further research is needed in order to succeed in the challenging task of restoring more wetlands. (pages 193 - 210)
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- Stanley A. Nichols
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226871745.003.0016
[aquatic communities, aquatic plants, shoreline development, boat traffic, nutrient runoff, lake eutrophication, invasive species]
This chapter examines changes in aquatic communities. Key threats to lake plant communities include shoreline development, heavy boat traffic, nutrient runoff, and consequent lake eutrophication and turbidity. Many invasive species capitalize on these conditions, forcing more elaborate efforts to control the excessive growth of invasive lake plants and algae. Lake plant communities also sometimes surprise scientists, as when a previously degraded community recovers beyond what we might expect. (pages 211 - 228)
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- Monica G. Turner, Emily H. Stanley, Matthias Bürgi, David J. Mladenoff
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226871745.003.0017
[land uses, sediment flows, nutrient loads, water quality, flooding, floodplain vegetation]
This chapter traces the ecological history of the Wisconsin River. Land uses along this river's long watershed have changed dramatically over the past 200 years. This “hardest working river in America” has also experienced radical changes in response to all the dams and levees that have been constructed in and along it to control water flows and limit flooding. Together, these changes have altered sediment flows, nutrient loads, and water quality with effects extending all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Changes in flooding and nutrients have also greatly altered floodplain vegetation with reciprocal effects on water quality. (pages 229 - 250)
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Part Four: Changing Animal Communities


- Adrian P. Wydeven, Charles M. Pils
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226871745.003.0018
[carnivores, Wisconsin, abundance, distribution, state bounties, wolves, bobcats, fisher, wolf, public attitudes]
This chapter examines historical changes in Wisconsin's carnivore populations. Populations of carnivores have changed in terms of both their abundance and their distribution in the state. Some species have done well, while others have fared poorly. These shifts often reflect policy decisions. State bounties for certain animals like wolves and bobcats greatly depleted their populations. Later, legal protection and active restoration efforts by the same state have served to increase the densities of carnivores like fisher and wolf. Changes in public attitudes toward carnivores made these policy reversals possible. Perhaps there is a lesson here that we could extend to less charismatic species. (pages 257 - 272)
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- Scott Craven, Timothy Van Deelen
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226871745.003.0019
[Wisconsin, white-tailed deer, deer populations, conservation programs, environmental change]
This chapter focuses on Wisconsin's wildlife icon—the white-tailed deer. Long hunted by Native Americans, deer declined in numbers soon after European settlement in response to overhunting and habitat loss. By the early 1900s, deer were only found in the northern third of the state. State conservation programs brought this species back from extinction, making deer recovery a great conservation success. A half-century later, the pendulum has swung back. Now conservationists contend with the impacts of too many deer: vehicle collisions, crop damage, failed tree regeneration, and general declines in biodiversity. By emphasizing deer as both a cause and a reflection of environmental change, the chapter reveals some key links in the web of life and our relation to these. (pages 273 - 286)
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- Gary S. Casper
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226871745.003.0020
[Wisconsin, amphibians, reptiles, endangered species, agriculture, Apostle Islands, Milwaukee County]
The loss of over half of Wisconsin's wetlands and more than 99% of its prairies and oak savannas has radically altered conditions for reptiles and amphibians, greatly shrinking the ranges of several now endangered species. These losses have been greatest and most permanent in southern Wisconsin as huge expanses of grassland and savanna were converted to agriculture and urban development. To understand how the state's reptile and amphibian fauna are responding to habitat conditions, this chapter examines two extremes along a continuum of anthropogenic disturbance. At one end of the continuum, is the Apostle Islands. Although this is not the most pristine part of the state, many of the islands remain fairly wild. At the opposite extreme lies the heavily urbanized landscape of Milwaukee County. (pages 287 - 300)
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- David W. Sample, Michael J. Mossman
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226871745.003.0021
[grassland birds, grassland habitats, habitat, settlements, grasslands]
Changes in Wisconsin's grasslands have had huge impacts on grassland bird populations. As the original native grassland habitats were altered or destroyed, bird species adapted, exploited newly created agricultural habitats, shifted to other available habitats, or disappeared. This chapter attempts to tell this story of change and adaptation, of loss and gain, and see what it forecasts for us and the grassland birds. The story is told in four parts. The first regards the “recent presettlement” era of about 1700–1850, prior to the major changes wrought by Euro–Americans. The second period is the first century after settlement, 1850–1950. The third period spans 1950 to the present. Finally, the future of grasslands and grassland birds in Wisconsin is considered, noting conservation needs based on projected trends and lessons from the past. (pages 301 - 330)
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- Stanley A. Temple, John R. Cary
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226871745.003.0022
[bird communities, species richness, bird populations]
This chapter takes advantage of current and historic data to explore changes in the composition of ten Wisconsin bird communities over the past 55 years (1950–2004) and interpret those changes in light of what is known about the birds themselves and their environment. Although species richness in most of those communities has increased over the past several decades, changes in individual species varied a lot, with some showing long-term declines and others increases. Bird communities will continue to change into the future, driven by shifts in climate, land use, and changing landscape patterns. (pages 331 - 338)
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- Les Ferge
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226871745.003.0023
[moths, butterflies, Lepidoptera populations, environmental change, pest insects, native species, extreme weather, climatic changes]
This chapter explores what is known about and what is likely happening to Wisconsin's moths and butterflies. Many species of Lepidoptera can serve as extraordinarily sensitive indicators of environmental change, given the dependence of many species on a single host plant and habitat type. Many of these plants and habitats are threatened, reduced to small isolated populations and remnants. Invasive, nonnative plants now occupy large areas of native habitat and threaten areas rich in butterflies and moths. Outbreaks of, and efforts to suppress, pest insects, both native and introduced, could affect many native species. Extreme weather conditions also take their toll. Excessive rainfall promotes the spread of fungal, bacterial, and viral diseases, while drought can reduce larval host plants or the density of nectar flowers. Large-scale climatic changes associated with global warming could have both positive and negative effects on native Lepidoptera populations. (pages 339 - 350)
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Part Five: Nature Meets Us: The Social and Political Context


- Mike Dombeck
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226871745.003.0024
[biocultural landscapes, conservation, public attitudes, endangered species, water quality]
This chapter examines biocultural landscapes through the dual lenses of biology and policy. It suggests that great advances in conservation were always preceded by changes in public attitudes. Today, few believe that we have a moral duty to squander our natural resources, yet the opposite was true 150 years ago when clearing the forests for timber and agriculture was deemed a moral imperative. The great conservation movement of the early twentieth century shifted the dominant paradigm, making it possible to set aside public lands, protect threatened birds and mammals, and assign the Civilian Conservation Corps the job of restoring habitats. Paradigms shifted again during the 1960s and 1970s as we began to protect air and water quality in earnest and extended protection to a wide set of endangered species. The chapter concludes that future generations will only have the opportunity to experience and enjoy the forests, waters, and wildlife we have today if we collectively embrace the notion that these are communities to which we belong. (pages 357 - 362)
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- Lawrence A. Leitner, John H. Idzikowski, Gary S. Casper
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226871745.003.0025
[vascular plants, birds, reptiles, amphibians, species loss, species composition, ecological changes, metropolitan areas]
This chapter asks, how has Milwaukee County changed? This area is typical of metropolitan areas elsewhere, where centuries of dense human settlement have eroded natural habitats and the species they supported. It focuses on three major groups: vascular plants, birds, and reptiles and amphibians to consider species losses, current species composition, and future trends. These well-studied groups give us a picture of the dramatic ecological changes that have occurred since European settlement and so serve to reflect how metropolitan areas are changing around the world. (pages 363 - 380)
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- Dave Cieslewicz
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226871745.003.0026
[cities, urban landscapes, urban areas, rural areas, sprawl, Aldo Leopold, land ethic, city ethic]
This chapter argues that cities are good for the environment. Far more land is being developed in the Midwest than would be predicted based on population growth. This reflects sprawl and the continuing hunger to live on the edge of cities (often in ever larger houses). How we live on the land matters. People living in high-density urban areas typically produce far fewer air pollutants, greenhouse gases, and nonpoint water pollution than suburban and rural residents. Ironically, people who move to rural areas and the suburban fringes professing to love nature create the very sprawl they disdain. It is argued that we should extend Aldo Leopold's land ethic to incorporate a city ethic that embraces livable urban landscapes as an effective way to protect and heal the land. (pages 381 - 390)
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- Stephen M. Born
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226871745.003.0027
[Wisconsin, policy decisions, public policy, infrastructure]
Wisconsin's lands, waters, and wildlife have been changing in response to changing land use and development pressures. These changes are partly due to public policy and program decisions but also reflect the effects of the aggregation of myriad unplanned private and individual actions. This chapter focuses on the important influence which public policy, planning, and management interventions have on ecological systems. While science can create an informative knowledge base that helps shape the public and political opinions that lead to policy and management actions, it is the cumulative impacts of public (and private) policy and management interventions themselves that bring about change. The principal drivers of change include population growth, development levels and distribution, land use, agriculture and industrial production, energy development, and transportation and infrastructure choices. (pages 391 - 402)
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Part Six: Trajectories


- Stephen R. Carpenter
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226871745.003.0028
[ecological change, ecological systems, boundaries, resilience, adaptive change, ecosystems]
The consequences of human-driven change in Wisconsin's ecosystems are highlighted throughout other chapters. What future can we expect for Wisconsin's ecosystems? To what extent can we direct ecological change toward desired outcomes? This chapter sketches some approaches to these questions. It begins with the limits to ecological prediction and our limited capacity to control change in ecological systems. Existing mechanisms for governance of social-ecological systems are not well suited for circumstances of high uncertainty and limited control. These challenges are framed in terms of ecosystem regime shifts, using concepts of boundaries, resilience, and adaptive change. Scenario development is a tool to help us understand the high uncertainty and limited control found in social-ecological systems. The chapter presents a set of social-ecological scenarios developed for the Northern Highland Lake District. It concludes with some speculations about prospects for Wisconsin's ecosystems in the turbulent decades to come. (pages 407 - 422)
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- M. Jake Vander Zanden, Jeff T. Maxted
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226871745.003.0029
[invasive species, rusty crayfish, zebra mussels, spiny water flea, rainbow smelt, common carp, ecological change]
This chapter highlights the ecological change caused by the invasion of Wisconsin's aquatic ecosystems by a series of “emerging” exotic species. It focuses on five species: rusty crayfish, zebra mussels, spiny water flea, rainbow smelt, and common carp. Invasive species are a key driver of ecological change and contribute to biotic homogenization and the loss of ecosystem services. Some of these changes are apparent, while others, particularly those involving interactions among invaders, are difficult to predict. An effective management strategy will involve a mix of preventing the further spread of invasives while simultaneously adapting to the presence of exotics in lakes and streams. (pages 423 - 438)
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- S. Kelly Kearns
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226871745.003.0030
[invasive species, Wisconsin, species invasion, nonnative terrestrial species]
Invasive plants, animals, and disease organisms strongly affect both our biological resources and economy. Some scientists believe that invasions are inevitable and feel that it is futile to attempt to stop them. However, most who work with invasives feel strongly that much can and should be done to protect natural areas from the impacts of invasive species. A broader awareness of which species are of concern and the problems they cause is key to containing the current infestations and preventing the import of new harmful species. This chapter examines the status of invasive terrestrial species in Wisconsin: the history of their introduction and spread, their impacts, projections for future change, a summary of what is currently being done at different levels, and recommendations for further actions. (pages 439 - 452)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Robert M. Scheller, David J. Mladenoff
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226871745.003.0031
[forests, ecological change, environmental change, population growth, climate change]
Chapters 5–7 showed that Wisconsin's forests have changed in many different ways, reflecting shifts in climate, variable soils, the migration of species following glaciation, natural disturbances, past and current logging, fragmentation from roads, and continuing shifts in human land use. Forest ecologists, historians, and sociologists use data from many sources to infer how Great Lakes states forests have changed and how these changes reflect broader geographic and historical contexts. In this era of global environmental change, can we use the past to anticipate and understand the future? Or will future changes be unique and unpredictable? The chapter grapples with these questions as it tries to imagine Wisconsin's forests 100 years from now, exploring the consequences of factors like population growth and climate change. (pages 453 - 462)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online


- Donald M. Waller
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226871745.003.0032
[Wisconsin, ecological change, ecological monitoring, ecological crises]
This book has focused on assessing and interpreting the past century and a half of ecological change in the specific context of one state—Wisconsin. This chapter first describes what makes Wisconsin unique, as well as what makes it typical. It then discusses the nature of cumulative effects; the growing importance of ecological monitoring; the need for ecologists to share their research results with the broader public and decision makers; and how to best educate people about the large and complex web of environmental and ecological crises. (pages 465 - 476)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online


List of Scientific Names