Meet Matt Macpherson, WPC’s Lead Field Technician for the Ojibway Prairie Reptile Recovery (OPRREC) team in southwestern Ontario. When Matt joins a project, he likes to do some preliminary research. Here, he shares his discoveries of the natural history of the Ojibway Prairie Complex and the greater park ecosystem.
This area is characterized by poorly drained sandy soils overlaying a thick bed of clay and very flat topography, resulting in very wet and flooded springs and very hot and dry summers. This unique combination makes the area better suited to prairie vegetation than trees, resulting in the tallgrass prairie and oak savannah remnants found in the area. These features also make the land ideal for development and agriculture; less than 0.5% of the original prairies and savannah are thought to remain in all of Southwestern Ontario. Unsurprisingly, the patches that do remain in Windsor and LaSalle are not continuous and instead constitute five closely situated natural areas that together form the Ojibway Prairie Complex (OPC), in addition to a number of smaller natural features nearby in the greater park ecosystem (GPE).
Tallgrass prairie featuring several dense blazingstars, the purple wildflowers.
Although remaining habitats are fragmented, an incredible amount of animal and plant diversity still exists within the OPC and Greater Park Ecosystem. Several rare reptiles, birds, plants, insects and mammals are found in the area, some of which occur nowhere else in Canada. In the springtime, Acadian flycatchers and yellow-breasted chat can be heard singing within the Kentucky coffee trees and American chestnuts. Later on, dense blazingstar, colicroot, and eastern prairie-fringed orchid begin to bloom, and are frequented by several different butterfly species including monarchs.
Up to 49 butterfly species can be seen in a day if you’re lucky!
At nighttime, make sure to keep your eyes peeled for little brown bats and common nighthawks flying overhead. And last but not least, massasauga rattlesnakes, eastern foxsnakes, and Butler’s gartersnakes can be found happily basking under clumps of vegetation. This is only a handful of the flora and fauna found in the complex.
18 reptile and amphibian species, 119 provincially rare plant species, 252 bird species, and thousands of insect species have been recorded.
Juvenile eastern foxsnake
Despite the incredible diversity that still remains, flora and fauna of the OPC and GPE are under significant pressure from several human activities including ongoing habitat loss and degradation, pollution, illegal collection, road mortality, and climate change. A substantial number of species in the complex are considered species at risk, including all of the plants and animals named in the previous paragraphs.
However, there is hope! Several of the OPRREC team’s stewardship activities in the area have a beneficial effect on other species at risk, though the work primarily focuses on massasauga rattlesnakes and other at risk snakes, Such activities include invasive species removal, installation of wildlife barrier fencing along roads, and public outreach and education.
Although the future of Ojibway Prairie’s flora and fauna remains uncertain, our team continues to collaborate with our local, provincial and national partners and to protect this beautiful and important area. I’m quite excited to be a part of this goal!
– Matthew R. Macpherson, OPRREC Lead Field Technician
Lead Field Technician, Ojibway Prairie Reptile Recovery
Matt is currently finishing up his Master’s degree in Biology at Queen’s University where he has been working on developing and improving conservation strategies for gray ratsnakes. Over the years he has worked on several different conservation projects primarily focusing on reptile, bird, and insect species-at-risk both in Canada and abroad.