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Ecoregions of Michigan

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To check where a specific point lies, you can look it up in our Ecoregion Locator.

About the Ecoregions of Michigan

Michigan is a state in the upper Midwestern U.S. It can be divided into 31 different ecoregions, 13 of which are in its Upper Peninsula and 18 of which are in the Lower Peninsula. Although Michigan's borders don't correspond very well to ecological borders, it is a large enough state that 17 of these ecoregions are fully contained within the state. Different sources have inconsistently classified these regions and changed their borders, so there mamy be some inconsistencies between the level 3 and level 4 ecoregions listed on our site in this state.

As a whole, Michigan is characterized by a cold but lake-influenced humid continental climate, and its history of glaciation, which has led much of the state to be flat, with the dominant landforms being glacial in origin. A few areas of the state, mostly in the west of the Upper Peninsula, have exposed bedrock and hills and mountains that predate (but were shaped by) glaciation. The climate tends to become more extreme farthest from the lakes, and lake-effect snow tends to be highest to the southeast of lakes due to the most common direction of weather systems being northwest-to-southeast.

Broadly, Michigan spans the transition between the conifer-dominated Northern (Boreal) Forests (which contains the entire Upper Peninsula and 7 of the ecoregions in the Lower Peninsula) and the more southerly, hardwood-dominated Eastern Temperate Forests (containing the remaining 11 ecoregions.)

The southeast of the state, including the Detroit metro area, contains the Maumee Lake Plain, a highly-degraded lake plain utilized for heavy industry and some agriculture. Within this lie several Oak Openings, small areas of more drought-prone, sandy soil. West of this region lies a small portion of the Clayey High Lime Till Plains, a flat region with nutrient-rich but poorly-drained soils, most of which lies outside the state.

The irregularly-shaped Interlobate Dead Ice Moraines region extends across much of the southern portion of the state, and has more variable, hillier topography. A large area along the southern border of the state is covered in the Battle Creek/Elkhart Outwash Plain, where well-drained hills are interspersed with low, wet, muck-filled depressions. A bit farther north in the interior of the Lower Peninsula, the Lansing Loamy Plain covers a large area and is ideally-suited for agriculture, also including most of the state's population centers outside of Detroit. Northeast of this, the Saginaw Lake Plain is a more clayey, lake-moderated area including Michigan's "thumb".

Along Lake Michigan, the Michigan Lake Plain makes up a long narrow strip; just inland from this are the hillier Lake Michigan Moraines. Following the lakeshore to the north, the Manistee-Leelanau Shore includes some dramatic lakeshore sand dunes, as well as the area around Traverse City. Just inland from this is the small Platte River Outwash region.

South of this, and a bit inland from the lake, the Newaygo Barrens is an excessively dry, fire-prone region. East of this, the Cadillac Hummocky Moraines is a slightly colder region, and northeast, the Mio Plateau has the coldest climate in the Lower Peninsula. North of this, the Vanderbilt Moraines is a steep region transitional between the Mio Plateau and lower areas along the lake, including the Onaway Moraines and the Cheboygan Lake Plain. South of this region, along Lake Huron, there is also the Tawas Lake Plain.

The Upper Peninsula has a single region, the Menominee-Drummond Lakeshore, along its entire southern shore. The northern shore, however, is much more diverse, starting with the Rudyard Clay Plain in the east, to the long, sandierGrand Marais Lakeshore, the rugged Michigamme Highland, the sandy Keweenaw-Baraga Moraines, and in the west, the Superior Mineral Ranges and the Lake Superior Clay Plain.

The inland portions of the Upper Peninsula include the wet Seney-Tahquamenon Sand Plain in the east, and moving west, the Menominee Drumlins and Ground Moraine and the Winegar Dead Ice Moraine. Three regions are mostly found on the Wisconsin side but extend slightly into Michigan: the Wisconsin/Michigan Pine Barrens, the Brule and Paint River Drumlins, and Northern Wisconsin Highlands Lakes Country.

Most of Michigan is sparsely populated, with the population centering around Detroit and several medium-sized cities also in the south of the state. Parts of the state have intensive agriculture, but in much of the state, logging, rather than agriculture, has been the dominant influence on the landscape. Some areas, mostly in the north, have also had significant mining.

References

1. Omernik, J.M., Bryce, S.A. "Michigan: Level III and IV Ecoregion Descriptions / Mapping Issues", US EPA (2007) Web.