We hear the word wetlands a great deal these days; for those of us that hate to admit that we’re not real sure what exactly qualifies as a wetland and why one is important, here is a primer on the subject.
Wetlands are the link between land and water; they are transition zones where the flow of water, the cycling of nutrients, and the energy of the sun meet to produce a unique ecosystem characterized by water, soils and vegetation. A wetland might not be wet year-round, many are only seasonally wet.
Wetlands provide habitat for thousands of species of aquatic and terrestrial plants and animals. Although wetlands are best known for being home to water lilies, turtles, frogs, snakes and alligators, they also provide important habitat for waterfowl, fish and mammals. Migrating birds use wetlands to rest and feed during their long journeys and as nesting sites when they are at home. Habitat loss has resulted in a reduction in numbers for migrating species.
Wetlands do more than provide habitat for plants and animals. When rivers overflow, wetlands help to absorb and slow floodwaters. Wetlands also act as filters absorbing excess nutrients, sediment, and other pollutants before they reach rivers lakes, and other waterbodies. Additionally, wetlands are often great spots for fishing, canoeing, and bird-watching.
The United States loses about 60,000 acres of wetlands each year creating loss of habitat for wildlife and flood issues for residents. An awareness of the importance and benefits of wetlands may help reduce this loss.