Wetlands overview: unique and super important habitats

This post serves to give basic information on wetlands so that in future posts I will be able to build on this knowledge as I don’t want to assume what my readers do and do not know. In the simplest terms, a wetland is a place where plants grow in soil that is soaked with water including; swamps, bogs, marshes, and mangroves. Wetlands are often small and surrounded by other biomes. Wetlands have the 2nd highest species diversity of terrestrial ecosystems, after tropical rainforests. Some of the largest wetlands worldwide are the Huson Bay Lowlands, Everglades, Okavango Delta, Nile Delta, Sundarbans, and the Pantanal. Ironically, wetlands in the past had been viewed very negatively, therefore, they were often drained for farmland. Today we recognize the value of wetlands especially when it comes to soil filtration and storm protection. Wetland delineation is becoming more common as a part of environmental assessments in which soil and plants are measured to try and reduce the number of wetlands disturbed, later posts will focus on this process.

 

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My personal favorite wetland, photo credit: Uncle Pete, Inlet, NY

 

Some wetlands are seasonal and only occur when there are huge amounts of rainfall. Bogs are a type of wetland that relies almost entirely on rain as their source of water. rainwater also tends to be acidic and poor in nutrients. The result of this is that bogs are fairly infertile and plant growth takes a very long time. Bogs are associated with colder regions and sphagnum moss. Because bogs are such a poor environment to live in they develop layers and layers of undecomposed plant material which becomes what we call peat. As it can hold lots of water and energy-rich it is used for gardening and as a heat source. Over millions of years, peat can become coal as well. A great way to remember that bogs are an unproductive environment is to remember that in Siberia we have found wooly mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius) so well preserved we might be able to clone them. The same would not be true if the mammoth died in a productive ecosystem as it would have been recycled back into the system. Carnivorous plants are also common in bogs as they don’t have to rely on nutrients for the soil. The most common types include sundews (Drosera), pitcher plants, a Venus fly -traps (Dionaea muscipula). Thanks to increased demand for them as houseplants Venus fly-traps are facing population declines although removing a wild plant is now a felony.

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