Just to the east and right beyond the beach are “rolling sanctuaries of beauty and biodiversity:” the dunes of Lake Michigan.
Suzanne DeVries-Zimmerman, adjunct assistant professor of geological and environmental sciences at Hope College in Holland, Michigan and her students have spent their summer researching in the interdunal wetlands along the lake’s coast, working to conserve the sands for time and life.
“Our research aims to better understand how these interdunal systems work,” says DeVries-Zimmerman. “They have not been well studied and they are ecosystems in danger in Michigan. Where these areas can develop and thrive along the lakeshore is somewhat limited. But we find huge biodiversity in them and that is very valuable to us all, not just the plants and creatures who live there.”
Put in peril by development and the drastically changing water levels of Lake Michigan, the interdunal wetlands are needed for migrating birds and butterflies, for winter residents such as the predatory snowy owl and more. The dunes are also home to numerous wetland plant species such as ferns, swamp rose, and steeplebush.
Having researched Lake Michigan dunes with three of her professorial colleagues for over a decade now, DeVries-Zimmerman says they are still finding out “how much we don’t know” about the dunes and wetlands. They do know, though, that dunes must be allowed to move — if even a little — in order for biodiversity to thrive.
“The early (dune) management thinking was to stabilize dunes,” says Devires-Zimmerman. “The thinking was the only good dune is a stable dune, but that’s not the right management model anymore. We want some dunes to continue to migrate so ecological succession can continue to occur.”
Contact: Suzanne DeVries-Zimmerman at (616) 395-7540 or firstname.lastname@example.org