Ecological Importance of Canebreaks
Canebrakes provide valuable habitat for wildlife. Historical accounts, along with modern surveys, identify at least 21 mammal species, 16 bird species, four reptile species, and over 20 species of butterflies and moths found within canebrakes. It is likely that many additional species also use canebrake habitat. The decline of canebrakes may have contributed to the loss of the Carolina parakeet, passenger pigeon, and Bachman warbler. Several butterflies and moths feed exclusively on river cane and are now listed as endangered species. Swainson’s warbler is often found in thickets of giant cane, and some researchers have suggested that the decline of canebrakes has contributed to the rarity of this species. Canebrakes have also been shown to be effective buffers along streams and rivers, trapping sediments and nutrients from agricultural and other surface runoff. On-going studies at Southern Illinois University show that a mature (30 year-old) canebrake was found to reduce groundwater nitrates, reduce nutrients in surface runoff and reduce sediments by 100% within a
10 m buffer of the stream. In all cases, the canebrake was a more effective buffer than the adjacent forest. Velocity of runoff water decreases dramatically when entering a canebrake, allowing water to infiltrate the soil and sediments to deposit. The extensive root/rhizome structure of a mature canebrake also provides an effective soil stabilizer along waterways.