Provisional. A provisional ecological site description has undergone quality control and quality assurance review. It contains a working state and transition model and enough information to identify the ecological site.
Figure 1. Mapped extent
Areas shown in blue indicate the maximum mapped extent of this ecological site. Other ecological sites likely occur within the highlighted areas. It is also possible for this ecological site to occur outside of highlighted areas if detailed soil survey has not been completed or recently updated.
Major Land Resource Area (MLRA): 150A–Gulf Coast Prairies
MLRA 150A is in the West Gulf Coastal Plain Section of the Coastal Plain Province of the Atlantic Plain in Texas (83 percent) and Louisiana (17 percent). It makes up about 16,365 square miles (42,410 square kilometers). It is characterized by nearly level plains that have low local relief and are dissected by rivers and streams that flow toward the Gulf of Mexico. Elevation ranges from sea level to about 165 feet (0 to 50 meters) along the interior margin. It includes the towns of Crowley, Eunice, and Lake Charles, Louisiana, and Beaumont, Houston, Bay City, Victoria, Corpus Christi, Robstown, and Kingsville, Texas. Interstates 10 and 45 are in the northeastern part of the area, and Interstate 37 is in the southwestern part. U.S. Highways 90 and 190 are in the eastern part, in Louisiana. U.S. Highway 77 passes through Kingsville, Texas. The Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge and the Fannin Battleground State Historic Site are in the part of the area in Texas.
USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, 2006.
-Major Land Resource Area (MLRA) 150A
Ecological site concept
As named, the Lowland ecological site occurs on the lowest part of the landscape. It receives excess water from surround landforms and may stay wet for extended periods throughout the year. This site is not similar in soils, landscape positions or vegetation to any other sites in MLRA 150A.
The Southern Blackland ecological site shows an intact grass community with small clumped dispersal of woody species. The soils are very deep, richly black in color, and characterized by their shrink-swell nature. The sites are widely distributed across the uplands and terraces throughout the region. This site has a heavier surface texture and is higher in the landscape.
Northern Loamy Prairie
The Northern Loamy Prairie is characterized by very deep loamy soils occurring on uplands. The site is correlated to areas with mean annual rainfall from 48 to 57 inches. They are vegetatively productive and provide good grazing for livestock. This site has similar surface textures but not in a depressional landform.
The Northern Blackland ecological site shows an intact grass community with small clumped dispersal of woody species. The soils are very deep, richly black in color, and characterized by their shrink-swell nature. The sites are widely distributed across the uplands and terraces throughout the region. The site is correlated to areas with mean annual rainfall that ranges from 41 to 57 inches.
The Clay Loam ecological site has very deep clay loam soils and has high vegetative production.
Southern Loamy Prairie
The Southern Loamy Prairie is characterized by very deep loamy soils occurring on uplands. They are vegetatively productive and provide good grazing for livestock. This site has similar surface textures but not in a depressional landform.
Table 1. Dominant plant species
(1) Panicum virgatum
The site was formed in loamy fluviomarine deposits of the Beaumont and Lissie Formation from the Pleistocene age. These soils are in relic stream meander depressions on the coastal prairie. Landform shapes are round, oval, or linear depressions 6 to 18 inches deep. Slope is usually less than 0.5 percent but range up to 1 percent. Elevation is 10 to 250 feet.
Table 2. Representative physiographic features
(2) Coastal plain > Flat
(3) Coastal plain > Meandering channel
|Runoff class||Negligible to high|
|Flooding duration||Brief (2 to 7 days)|
|Flooding frequency||None to occasional|
|Ponding duration||Brief (2 to 7 days) to very long (more than 30 days)|
|Ponding frequency||Occasional to frequent|
|Elevation||10 – 250 ft|
|Ponding depth||18 in|
|Water table depth||60 in|
|Aspect||Aspect is not a significant factor|
The climate of MLRA 150A is humid subtropical with mild winters. The average annual precipitation in the northern two-thirds of this area is 45 to 63 inches. It is 28 inches at the extreme southern tip of the area and 30 to 45 inches in the southwestern third of the area. The precipitation is fairly evenly distributed, but it is slightly higher in late summer and midsummer in the western part of the area and slightly higher in winter in the eastern part. Rainfall typically occurs as moderate intensity, tropical storms that produce large amounts of rain during the winter. The average annual temperature is 66 to 72 degrees F. The freeze-free period averages 325 days and ranges from 290 to 365 days, increasing in length to the southwest.
Table 3. Representative climatic features
|Frost-free period (characteristic range)||234-255 days|
|Freeze-free period (characteristic range)||273-365 days|
|Precipitation total (characteristic range)||45-60 in|
|Frost-free period (actual range)||225-266 days|
|Freeze-free period (actual range)||223-365 days|
|Precipitation total (actual range)||42-61 in|
|Frost-free period (average)||244 days|
|Freeze-free period (average)||324 days|
|Precipitation total (average)||52 in|
Figure 2. Monthly precipitation range
Figure 3. Monthly minimum temperature range
Figure 4. Monthly maximum temperature range
Figure 5. Monthly average minimum and maximum temperature
Figure 6. Annual precipitation pattern
Figure 7. Annual average temperature pattern
Climate stations used
(1) VICTORIA FIRE DEPT #5 [USC00419361], Victoria, TX
(2) PORT LAVACA [USC00417183], Port Lavaca, TX
(3) BAY CITY WTR WKS [USC00410569], Bay City, TX
(4) DANEVANG 1 W [USC00412266], El Campo, TX
(5) EL CAMPO [USC00412786], El Campo, TX
(6) NEW GULF [USC00416286], Boling, TX
(7) COLUMBUS [USC00411911], Columbus, TX
(8) SEALY [USC00418160], Sealy, TX
(9) HOUSTON CLOVER FLD [USW00012975], Pearland, TX
(10) HOUSTON HOOKS MEM AP [USW00053910], Tomball, TX
(11) HOUSTON SAN JACINTO DA [USC00414328], Houston, TX
(12) ANAHUAC [USC00410235], Anahuac, TX
(13) BEAUMONT CITY [USC00410611], Vidor, TX
(14) PORT ARTHUR SE TX AP [USW00012917], Port Arthur, TX
(15) LAKE CHARLES [USW00003937], Lake Charles, LA
(16) JENNINGS [USC00164700], Jennings, LA
(17) EUNICE [USC00162981], Eunice, LA
(18) CROWLEY 2 NE [USC00162212], Crowley, LA
Influencing water features
These soils receive water from surrounding soils and are ponded for periods of several days to more than a month in duration. The ponding commonly occurs during the winter and spring in most years. These sites may be wetlands, but onsite delineations are required to determine official status.
This site has hydric soils. Onsite investigation is necessary to determine exact local conditions.
The site consists of very deep, poorly drained, very slowly permeable soils. The soil profile characteristically consists of an ochric horizon and then an argillic horizon. The ochric can measure 3 to 20 inches thick with an average of 10 inches. Crayfish krotovinas are found within the upper 60 inches. Surface horizon reaction ranges from strongly acid to neutral. Soil correlated to this site include: Aris, Cieno, Clodine, Gessner, Leton, Prairieland, Rexville, and Tomball.
Table 4. Representative soil features
igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary rock
(1) Silt loam
(3) Fine sandy loam
|Family particle size||
|Drainage class||Somewhat poorly drained to poorly drained|
|Permeability class||Moderately slow to very slow|
|Soil depth||80 in|
|Surface fragment cover <=3"||Not specified|
|Surface fragment cover >3"||Not specified|
|Available water capacity
|7 – 14 in|
|Calcium carbonate equivalent
|Sodium adsorption ratio
|Soil reaction (1:1 water)
|4.5 – 7.3|
|Subsurface fragment volume <=3"
|Subsurface fragment volume >3"
The Coastal Prairie was historically described as being covered by tall and coarse grasses. The land was noted as a level prairie with open grasslands by travelers in the 1800's. The Lowland site is distinct from surrounding prairie because of its wetness. However, it developed as part of the mid/tallgrass complex on the coastal prairie. The reference community is a mid/tallgrass/sedge-dominated grassland, heavily influenced by fluctuating water regimes, as well as grazing and fire. During wet cycles, more wet-tolerant species dominate, while during dry cycles species adapted to drier conditions dominate.
The tallgrass species common throughout the site are switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), eastern gamagrass (Tripsacum dactyloides), maidencane (Panicum hemitomon), giant cutgrass (Zizaniopsis miliacea), and Florida paspalum (Paspalum floridanum). Midgrasses, flat sedges, and sedges are important species, making up as much as 50 percent of herbaceous production during wet cycles. These include longtom paspalum (Paspalum denticulatum), knotroot bristlegrass (Setaria parviflora), green flatsedge (Cyperus virens), jointed flatsedge (Cyperus articulatus), and spikerush (Eleocharis spp.). Perennial forbs such as bundleflower (Desmanthus spp.) and button snakeroot (Liatris spp.) are a minor component of the vegetation. Annual forbs like sumpweed (Iva spp.) and ragweed (Ambrosia spp.) are seasonally abundant in response to drought-cycles. During wet cycles, species like arrowhead (Sagittaria longiloba), water clover (Marsilea macropoda), dock (Rumex spp.) and other wet-tolerant forbs become more prevalent.
The introduction of domestic livestock and subsequent heavy grazing reduces the preferred tallgrass component allowing midgrasses and sedges to dominate. The midgrass community may be dominated by longtom paspalum. The Lowland site is preferred by cattle over adjacent upland areas and tends to be heavily used. Heavy forage removal also removes fuel for fire. This reduces the incidence and intensity of wildfire allowing more change in the vegetative composition. Continued heavy grazing and reduction of fire over time remove the tall and midgrass components. A shortgrass/forb/woody plant community develops. Invasive exotic grasses such as smutgrass (Sporobulus indicus), bahiagrass (Paspalum notatum), and common bermudagrass (Cynodon dactylon) are likely occupants of this community. A few woody species like sennabean (Sesbania drummondii), mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa), huisache (Acacia farnesiana), baccharis (Baccharis spp.), wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera.), and Chinese tallow tree (Sapium sebiferum) make up a substantial part of annual production.
Grassland community trends may be reversed through prescribed grazing and the judicious use of fire. Since the site is preferred by cattle, prescribed grazing is necessary to protect the site and rest the grasses from overuse. Once the grassland to brushland threshold is crossed, a combination of practices will be necessary to restore the grassland state. Brush management and seeding are possibilities. Animal impact can cause compaction layers to develop disrupting the water cycle so ripping, aerating, and disking may also be necessary to repair the system. Combining these with prescribed grazing and fire are necessary for restoration processes to proceed.
State and transition model
More interactive model formats are also available.
View Interactive Models
Click on state and transition labels to scroll to the respective text
|T1A||-||Absence of disturbance and natural regeneration over time|
|R2A||-||Reintroduction of fire and regular disturbance return intervals|
Dominant plant species
panicgrass (Panicum), grass
This site is interspersed within the upland prairie sites on the Coastal Prairie. It is part of the tall/midgrass prairie complex that developed under intermittent grazing by bison and frequent winter and summer fires. The potential plant community on the site is a wet prairie dominated by tall and midgrasses. However, it varies between wet and dry cycles. During dry periods, tallgrasses such as switchgrass, eastern gamagrass, maidencane, and Florida paspalum can make up as much as 50 percent of the total herbaceous vegetation with the remainder composed of various mid and shortgrass species. During wet cycles, the tallgrasses decrease except around the edges of the site, while longtom paspalum, sedges, and knotroot bristlegrass dominate. Maidencane and giant cutgrass can be common, depending on the depth of the depression. Forbs are a small component, but annual forbs may be seasonally abundant in response to drought sequences. Abusive grazing by domestic livestock removes the tallgrass components, reduces fire and allows species such as longtom paspalum to increase. Woody plants are absent in the reference community.
Figure 8. Annual production by plant type (representative values) or group (midpoint values)
Table 5. Annual production by plant type
Figure 9. Plant community growth curve (percent production by month). TX7611, Mid/Tallgrass/Sedge Community. Warm-season midgrasses, tallgrasses, and sedges occupy the plant community..
Abusive grazing removes the tallgrass component from the reference community driving a shift to mid and shortgrasses. Once again, wet and dry cycles play a major role in which plant community dominates the site. During wet cycles, longtom paspalum, giant cutgrass, or maidencane becomes the dominant midgrass as sedges and knotroot bristlegrass increase. During prolonged dry periods in the southwestern range of the site, the plant community changes with a reduction in longtom paspalum and increasing numbers of flatsedge, spikerush, low panicums, paspalums, brownseed paspalum, broomsedge (Andropogon virginicus), bushy bluestem (Andropogon glomeratus), and longspike tridens (Tridens strictus). Removal of herbage by grazing shifts the composition to less productive grasses. Cessation of fire, combined with drought, followed by wet sequences encourages the invasion of forbs. Increases in forb composition further weaken the grass components driving further site change. Community dynamics can be reversed and close to reference community vegetation restored by prescribed grazing and fire if a seed source is still present. Fencing may be required to properly graze.
Community 1.1 to 1.2
Abusive grazing and lack of fire will cause the community to shift to 1.2.
Community 1.2 to 1.1
Prescribed grazing and the return of fire will transition the community back to 1.1.
As the mid and shortgrass community deteriorates the site is occupied by needlegrass rush (Juncus roemerianus) and common carpetgrass (Axonopus affinis). Introduced species that often invade include vaseygrass (Paspalum urville), smutgrass (Sporobulus indicus), and torpedograss (Panicum repens). Seasonal aspects of cool-season annual grasses such as canary grass (Phalaris spp.) and aquatic forbs occur. Grass cover is usually lacking with large amounts of exposed soil surface. Hardpans and compaction layers are generally present. Woody plants like sennabean, baccharis, wax myrtle, and Chinese tallow tree will invade as conditions allow. Scattered huisache (Acacia smallii) trees may be present. The current range of huisache is west of Houston. Restoration of this site will generally require brush and weed management practices. Prescribed grazing and rest are necessary. Seeding may also be required if a natural seed source is not available. Once adequate fuel has accumulated, prescribed fire should be used.
State 1 to 2
Continued heavy grazing, lack of fire, and no brush management will transition the reference state to State 2.
Restoration pathway R2A
State 2 to 1
Prescribed grazing, brush management, and return of fire can restore State 2 back to the reference state.
Additional community tables
Table 6. Community 1.1 plant community composition
|Group||Common name||Symbol||Scientific name||Annual production (lb/acre)||Foliar cover (%)|
|eastern gamagrass||TRDA3||Tripsacum dactyloides||1540–2240||–|
|giant cutgrass||ZIMI||Zizaniopsis miliacea||1540–2240||–|
|Florida paspalum||PAFL4||Paspalum floridanum||800–1500||–|
|jointed flatsedge||CYAR4||Cyperus articulatus||0–500||–|
|green flatsedge||CYVI2||Cyperus virens||0–500||–|
|marsh bristlegrass||SEPA10||Setaria parviflora||0–500||–|
|gaping grass||STHI3||Steinchisma hians||0–500||–|
|bushy bluestem||ANGL2||Andropogon glomeratus||0–250||–|
|broomsedge bluestem||ANVI2||Andropogon virginicus||0–250||–|
|brownseed paspalum||PAPL3||Paspalum plicatulum||100–250||–|
|longspike tridens||TRST2||Tridens strictus||100–250||–|
|spiny chloracantha||CHSP11||Chloracantha spinosa||150–300||–|
|southern annual saltmarsh aster||SYDI2||Symphyotrichum divaricatum||150–300||–|
|Cuman ragweed||AMPS||Ambrosia psilostachya||50–100||–|
|button eryngo||ERYU||Eryngium yuccifolium||50–100||–|
|blue mudplantain||HELI2||Heteranthera limosa||50–100||–|
|bigfoot waterclover||MAMA9||Marsilea macropoda||50–100||–|
|yellow puff||NELU2||Neptunia lutea||50–100||–|
|Pennsylvania smartweed||POPE2||Polygonum pensylvanicum||50–100||–|
|violet wild petunia||RUNU||Ruellia nudiflora||50–100||–|
|longbarb arrowhead||SALO2||Sagittaria longiloba||50–100||–|
|prairie broomweed||AMDR||Amphiachyris dracunculoides||25–50||–|
|annual marsh elder||IVAN2||Iva annua||25–50||–|
The Coastal Prairie communities support a wide array of animals. Cattle and many species of wildlife make extensive use of the site. White-tailed deer may be found scattered across the prairie and are found in heavier concentrations where woody cover exists. Feral hogs are present and at times abundant. Coyotes are abundant and fill the mammalian predator niche. Rodent populations rise during drier periods and fall during periods of inundation. Attwater’s pocket gophers are abundant and have an important impact on the ecology of the site. The badger is present but not abundant in locations at the southern extent of the site. Locally unique species alligators and bullfrogs.
The region is a major flyway for waterfowl and migrating birds. Hundreds of thousands of ducks, geese, and sandhill cranes abound during winter. Two important endangered species occur in the area, the whooping crane and Attwater’s prairie chicken. Many other species of avian predators including northern harriers, ferruginous hawks, red-tailed hawks, white-tailed kites, kestrels, and, occasionally, swallow-tailed kites utilize the vast grasslands. Many species of grassland birds use the site, including blue grosbeaks, dickcissels, eastern meadowlarks, several sparrows, including, vesper sparrow, lark sparrow, savannah sparrow, grasshopper sparrow, and Le Conte’s sparrow.
This site is part of the extensive wetland systems of the Gulf Coast Prairie which functions in both flood control and aquifer recharge. These sites, when dry, serve as reservoirs to capture excessive precipitation during high-intensity rainfall events. When in pristine condition this site is important in aquifer recharge. In impaired condition (low organic matter, compaction layers, etc.) the site loses more water through evaporation and transpiration than it delivers to aquifer recharge.
This site is frequently used for hunting ducks and geese during wet cycles in winter months. The site is also extensively used for bird watching.
Inventory data references
Information presented here has been derived from former range site descriptions for Lowland and Lakebed Sites and from the current draft of the Lakebed Ecological Site Description. Field visits were done in Victoria, Refugio, Jefferson, Chambers, Harris, Waller, and San Patricio Counties. Personal contacts and communications with range-trained personnel were used extensively.
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Dr. C. Wayne Hanselka, RMS, Texas AgriLife, Corpus Christi, TX
Tim Reinke, RMS, NRCS, Victoria, TX
Bryan Christensen, 9/22/2023
Reviewers and Contributors:
Justin Clary, RMS, NRCS, Temple, TX
Shanna Dunn, RSS, NRCS, Corpus Christi, TX
Vivian Garcia, RMS, NRCS, Corpus Christi, TX
Mark Moseley, RMS, NRCS, San Antonio, TX
Mike Stellbauer, RMS, NRCS, Bryan, TX
Rangeland health reference sheet
Interpreting Indicators of Rangeland Health is a qualitative assessment protocol used to determine ecosystem condition based on benchmark characteristics described in the Reference Sheet. A suite of 17 (or more) indicators are typically considered in an assessment. The ecological site(s) representative of an assessment location must be known prior to applying the protocol and must be verified based on soils and climate. Current plant community cannot be used to identify the ecological site.
|Author(s)/participant(s)||Mike Stellbauer, Zone RMS, NRCS, Bryan, TX|
|Contact for lead author|
|Approved by||Bryan Christensen|
|Composition (Indicators 10 and 12) based on||Annual Production|
Number and extent of rills:None.
Presence of water flow patterns:Water flow patterns should not be evident on this depressional site.
Number and height of erosional pedestals or terracettes:None.
Bare ground from Ecological Site Description or other studies (rock, litter, lichen, moss, plant canopy are not bare ground):Less than 15 percent bare ground randomly distributed throughout.
Number of gullies and erosion associated with gullies:None.
Extent of wind scoured, blowouts and/or depositional areas:None.
Amount of litter movement (describe size and distance expected to travel):Little litter movement can be expected.
Soil surface (top few mm) resistance to erosion (stability values are averages - most sites will show a range of values):Soil surface is resistant to erosion. Stability class range is expected to be 5 to 6.
Soil surface structure and SOM content (include type of structure and A-horizon color and thickness):Soil surface structure is about 8 inches thick with dark grayish brown clay loam subangular blocky structure. SOM is 1 to 4 percent.
Effect of community phase composition (relative proportion of different functional groups) and spatial distribution on infiltration and runoff:Little effect in this depressional landscape position.
Presence and thickness of compaction layer (usually none; describe soil profile features which may be mistaken for compaction on this site):None.
Functional/Structural Groups (list in order of descending dominance by above-ground annual-production or live foliar cover using symbols: >>, >, = to indicate much greater than, greater than, and equal to):
Amount of plant mortality and decadence (include which functional groups are expected to show mortality or decadence):Some plant mortality can be expected for perennial warm-season grasses (FACU, UP) or perennial warm-season forbs (FAC, FW, OB) depending on the length of ponding during the growing season.
Average percent litter cover (%) and depth ( in):
Expected annual annual-production (this is TOTAL above-ground annual-production, not just forage annual-production):4,000 pounds per acre for below average moisture years to 7,000 pounds per acre for above average moisture years.
Potential invasive (including noxious) species (native and non-native). List species which BOTH characterize degraded states and have the potential to become a dominant or co-dominant species on the ecological site if their future establishment and growth is not actively controlled by management interventions. Species that become dominant for only one to several years (e.g., short-term response to drought or wildfire) are not invasive plants. Note that unlike other indicators, we are describing what is NOT expected in the reference state for the ecological site:Potential invasive species include bahiagrass, bermudagrass, and Chinese tallow tree.
Perennial plant reproductive capability:All perennial plants should be capable of reproducing, except for periods of prolonged drought conditions, heavy herbivory, or intense wildfires.
The Ecosystem Dynamics Interpretive Tool is an information system framework developed by the USDA-ARS Jornada Experimental Range, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, and New Mexico State University.
Click on box and path labels to scroll to the respective text.
|T1A||-||Absence of disturbance and natural regeneration over time|
|R2A||-||Reintroduction of fire and regular disturbance return intervals|