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What's Lurking in the Back Channel Habitats?

By Interpretive Ranger, Julie Age

As you walk alongside Floyds Fork, you will notice many curiosities during your journey. Flowing waters, critters and vegetation are a few things you may spot out, but have you ever stopped to think about the more shallow sections of the creek? Floyds Fork is a continuously changing and dynamic waterway that has developed one or more alternate courses in its evolution. The shallow waterways you see on your walks along Floyds Fork are called backwaters or back channels. Back channels are often slow-moving or sometimes even stop all together. These abandoned channels receive stream water after heavy rains and are seasonally or periodically connected to Floyds Fork.  

Because of this rise and fall of water levels, back channel habitats experience high levels of physical and biological diversity. Variation is particularly intense in these backchannels because of slowly-changing conditions followed by rapid shifts during periods of high water and flooding. This results in a diverse environment and great habitat for aquatic and terrestrial organisms!

Back channel habitat in The Parklands. Photo by John Nation. 

 

Back channels provide a certain degree of shelter from currents, while still allowing an animal to hunt for food. They are often the preferred habitat of juvenile critters or species that are unable to cope with the fast flow of the main channel. Backwaters create areas where small detritus such as leaf litter can pile up underwater and make excellent shelter for many creatures, including hellgrammites, mayflies, midges, caddisfly larvae, stonefly nymphs, and beetle larvae. Aquatic species such as crawdads, fishes, and water snakes are also fond of these areas and often use them as nurseries as they provide vital habitat for offspring. These tiny creatures would be at great risk out in the main channel because they cannot navigate the strong currents, and they would be easy prey for predators.

A camper finds crawfish from a back channel habitat. 

 

Back channels are favored by a variety of frogs including green frogs, cricket frogs, pickerel frogs, and bull frogs.  Fowler’s toads also prefer these habitats. Back channels are excellent areas for spotting river otters, muskrats, and beavers due to the fact that the main channel experiences heavy flooding and high flow rates which affects the ability to sustain dens and dams. Frequently, backwaters are still and this provides a good place for animals such as deer, bats, and raccoons, to get a drink or hunt. Next time you’re hiking or paddling in The Parklands, be sure to stop and check out these amazingly diverse habitats!

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