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Duckweed and Algae Beneficial for a Marsh System
Visitors to the La Crosse River marsh this year have been witness to the steady spread of green carpet-like mats over the expanse of previously open water. Over the past few weeks, they’ve also smelled the gases produced by decaying vegetation as the water heats up and some of this floating plant mass begins to decompose.

The vegetation is a combination of different floating aquatic plants and algae. The filamentous algae are linked in long strands or mats that extend deep into the water and also cover the surface when in large concentrations. The other floating plant is duckweed, which floats on the surface of the water. Duckweed is an important food source for waterfowl and other animals, because it makes and stores starch, and it pulls nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorous) from the water as it grows. During fall migration, marsh visitors can see waterfowl feeding on duckweed in marsh backwaters as they stop here on their southward journey.

However, vegetation creates problems for water quality when it covers more than 20 percent of the surface (especially combined in a mat with algae). Excessive duckweed and algae mats block sunlight from getting to deeper water and then inhibit growth of other beneficial plants such as wild rice and other aquatic plants.

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One of the Curses of Lake Management - Eurasian Milfoil - Supervisor Dennis Faber, who also is a commissioner of the Camp/Center Lakes Rehabilitation District, said conventional wisdom going into this spring and summer was that the heavy snowfall of this year — including on frozen lakes — would mean less milfoil on local lakes. The actual experience, at least on Camp and Center lakes, was the opposite.

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