Stressed Wetlands

Wetlands are diverse ecosystems with unique soil types, vegetation, and water qualities that vary by geographic location. Types of wetlands include floodplains, mangroves, saltmarshes, peatlands, forests, and freshwater marshes. Wetlands provide many beneficial services – filtering pollutants, storing carbon, providing recreation sites for boating and fishing, providing wildlife habitat, and preventing flooding – but these services are threatened by both human activities, such as agriculture and urban development, and natural processes, such as erosion and flooding.  

A changing climate magnifies these stressors through increasing rates of sea level rise, extreme precipitation, and drought. For example, the Prairie Pothole Region in the north-central part of the US is an inland wetland that provides essential breeding habitat for more than 50% of North American waterfowl species. This region has experienced temporary droughts in the past and a drier future may lead to a dramatic drop in waterfowl breeding grounds which provide highly valued hunting and wildlife viewing opportunities.

Sea level rise predominantly adds stress to coastal wetlands due to increased salinity from saltwater intrusion, decreased barriers to storm surges, and increased erosion. For example, development along coastal Louisiana has resulted in the loss of 1,900 square miles of wetlands in recent decades. When coupled with projected rates of erosion due to sea level rise, the existing wetlands will no longer be able to function as natural buffers to flooding during strong storm events.

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