Rivers, Lakes and Wetlands instructor Amy Schrank (l.) leads her class through Smith's Fen

The University of Michigan Biological Station (UMBS) is celebrating the addition of 80 acres to its northern Michigan property holdings. “We are extremely excited to acquire and preserve this unique and valuable habitat, and we are grateful to the donors who made it possible” says UMBS Director Knute Nadelhoffer.

The property is situated roughly a mile southeast of the Douglas Lake campus. It contains Smith’s Fen, a wetland that UMBS researchers have been studying for more than a century. They have documented at least 5 species of frogs and salamanders that breed there, the presence of all known species of freshwater sponges native to Northern Michigan, and two species of diatoms that have been found nowhere else on earth.

The Stempky Family, who owned the land, always allowed scientists and students to access the property. “But we lived with the looming possibility that someone else would buy this unique parcel and deny us access,” says Nadelhoffer. When the Stempkys notified UMBS that they were planning to sell the property, the Station organized an appeal to its alumni.

Almost immediately a core group of faculty and alumni committed pledges and gifts equal to half the ultimate purchase price. By summer a wider network of individuals who had studied or done research at the fen, doubled the available funds. “It was remarkable,” says Associate Director Karie Slavik. “People were so forthcoming with their support.”

Detail image of Frustulia rexii, one of two diatoms endemic to Smith's Fen. (image source: Graeff, Kociolek and Burliga, Phytotaxa 42: 72, 2012)

A fen is a groundwater-fed, calcium-rich aquatic ecosystem. Smith’s Fen has a seasonal floating mat of sedges with a pool of water in the center. By late summer it usually dries to a wet meadow. Unlike bogs, which they superficially resemble, fens are neutral to alkaline in pH and high in minerals. They tend to have a diverse assemblages of plants and animals; Smith’s Fen is no exception. Professor Rex Lowe is delighted with the acquisition. "Now this emerald beauty is preserved and protected for generations of students, researchers and the public."

“I have good memories of wading into the fen and collecting samples of the flora and fauna and later examining their great diversity under the microscope” says donor Roger Bachmann. Fellow donor Norman Andresen agrees. “I have pleasant memories of collecting in Smith’s Fen. It always had a large population of the desmid Xanthidium armatum.”