Wetlands are characterized by wet soils and support vegetation, called hydrophytes, which adapt to the damp conditions. They provide benefits such as clean water, habitat for wildlife and places for family activities like bird watching. They are one of the very important surface waters that the Pelican River Watershed District works to protect. A constructed wetland has become a more common method of stormwater treatment due to the extensive benefits wetlands provide.
Wetlands are among the most productive ecosystems in the world, comparable to rainforests and coral reefs.
Wetlands are found from the tundra to the tropics and on every continent except Antarctica. An immense variety of species of microbes, plants, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds, fish, and mammals can be part of a wetland ecosystem. In Minnesota cattails, wild rice, tamarack and cedar trees all grow in wetlands. Many animals also make their home in wetland ecosystems.
Wetlands are identifiable because of their unique soil conditions, including wet soils or standing water for all or some of most years, and vegetation adapted for these wet conditions.
- Wetlands typically occur at the edge of aquatic and upland systems.
- They can be wet year-round, or just during certain seasons.
- They are also known as bogs, marshes, cedar swamps, and potholes.
Wetlands come in all shapes and sizes and each one is different. There are 8 common types of wetlands in Minnesota, including marshes, bogs, meadows and swamps.
Clean Water Benefits
Wetlands filter and store many pollutants, which improves water quality, floodwater storage, fish, wildlife and plant habitat, biological productivity, economic benefits, recreation and aesthetics. For example, wetlands function as natural sponges that trap and slowly release surface water, rain, snowmelt, groundwater and flood waters.
A buffer is the area upland of the wetland. These plants provide the initial filtering and natural treatment of sediment and other pollutants from runoff of rainwater and snow melt to keep streams, rivers and lakes cleaner.
The root systems of plants in wetland buffers have deep roots that take up nutrients and other pollutants from ground water as it moves through the soil. This root system also stabilizes the soil and is essential in preventing erosion.
Wetlands provide a habitat for birds and other wildlife. In fact, 43% of the species on federally threatened and endangered lists rely directly or indirectly on wetlands for their survival. Some of the wildlife that make their homes in wetlands or use it for part of their life cycles:
- Amphibians like frogs and salamanders
- Reptiles like turtles
- Mammals like beavers
- Aquatic insects
Wetlands support healthy fish populations by filtering out and storing many pollutants (especially phosphorus) that affect the water quality needed for aquatic life. (photos and content courtesy of Minneshaha Creek Watershed District)
For example, adult spotted salamanders migrate from uplands to vernal pools (seasonally wet ponds) in late winter and early spring for breeding and egg deposition. The gilled larvae develop further, eventually producing lungs. Then they must leave the vernal pools for adjacent upland, usually forested habitat, to live as adults. Having a complex of wetlands is required for the survival of the spotted salamander – and several other animals.
Check out some of the life cycle requirements of other animals at these links
Recreation and aesthetics benefits
Wetlands provide areas for wildlife and bird watching, a place for learning, photography and connecting with nature. These habitat connectors also provide a noise and visual barrier between the wetland and adjacent development.
Working on or near wetlands
It is important to minimize the impact of development near wetlands as much as possible. In many cases it is advisable to avoid building on or near a wetland entirely. Wetland buffers provide a protective pathway for wildlife moving from wetlands to upland habitat areas. They are vital to the survival of many species that rely on wetlands to complete their life cycle and habitat needs.
Wetlands must be protected from stressors including land alterations or activities that result in impacts to preserve the specific functions and values of the wetland.
The responsibility of maintaining a wetland falls on the landowner. Therefore it is important to be educated and aware of any wetlands on your property. There are local, state and federal regulations that protect these lands. Learn more about some of the regulations designed to protect wetlands:
What else can you do?
- Check out books or magazines about wetlands at your local library.
- Plan an outing to a park or other public place that has wetlands.
- Volunteer to help agencies and organizations restore wetlands.
- Become active in local issues - attend conservation commission meetings about projects involving wetland alteration or restorations in your neighborhood.
- Don't fill or alter wetlands on your property.
- Consider restoring drained or filled wetlands on your property.