Found on every continent save Antarctica, wetlands come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes—and hydrological, ecological and geological conditions! Across the group, the unifying feature for this diverse landscape is the dominance of water. A wetland is an area where water covers the soil, or lies at or just below the surface, for all or parts of the year, including the growing season. This saturation will in turn determine the type of vegetation found in the wetland, favoring water-loving (hydrophytic) species and will encourage the development of wetland (hydric) soils. Across the globe, this water dominance is expressed in many ways due to differences in regional climate, geology, and hydrology, and thus no two wetlands will be the same. In fact, seasonal changes alone may be enough to render a single wetland unrecognizable from one month to the next! For this reason, it can be difficult to look for and protect our wetlands—will we know them when we see them?
Click on the links below to learn more about wetlands in your state.
A good place to find wetlands in Alabama is Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. Established in 1938 by President Franklin Roosevelt, this area was designed to be a home and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife. Today it is designated as a waterfowl refuge (primarily for ducks and geese), and it supports the state's largest wintering concentration of these species. Wheeler NWR contains a tremendous variety of wetland habitat, including bottomland hardwood forests and tupelo swamps, allowing the site to support over 295 species of birds and a multitude of fish, reptiles, amphibians, mammals and freshwater mussels.
(Sources: EPA “Bottomland Hardwoods,” http://water.epa.gov/type/wetlands/bottomland.cfm; Smith, T. M., & Smith, R. L. (2009). Coastal and Wetland Ecosystems. In B. Wilbur (Ed.), Elements of Ecology (6th ed., pp. 547). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings ; USFWS “Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge,” http://www.fws.gov/refuge/wheeler/)
Did you know that almost half of the state of Alaska is covered in wetlands? About 43% of the state, or 174.7 million acres, is considered a wetland—that's more than all of the wetlands of the contiguous United States combined! In the northern and western portions of the state, the treeless stretches of wet tundra are underlain by solid layers of permafrost, trapping moisture at the surface and allowing the top layer of soil to remain saturated. These wet tundra wetlands are important breeding grounds for shore birds and waterfowl, and serve as calving and feeding grounds for herds of caribou in the spring. Alaska's interior lands contain black spruce muskeg and riverine floodplain wetlands, while the south central and southeastern portions of the state are home to shrub and herbaceous bogs. The coasts of the Beaufort, Chukchi and Bering Seas are lined with some of the nation's most extensive complexes of salt marshes and mudflats, serving as food, shelter, and nursery grounds for fish.
Each of these wetland expressions serves as a vital resource for the surrounding human community, both in terms of ecosystem services and consumable resources. For example, floodwaters can be temporarily stored in these areas, reducing a storm's potential to cause damage to life and property. Additionally, Indigenous peoples rely on these wetlands for subsistence hunting, fishing, trapping and gathering.
(Sources: Smith, T. M., & Smith, R. L. (2009). Coastal and Wetland Ecosystems. In B. Wilbur (Ed.), Elements of Ecology (6th ed., pp. 547). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Status of Alaska Wetlands. By J.V. Hall, W.E. Frayer and B.O. Wilen. 1994. Retrieved from http://www.fws.gov/wetlands/Documents/Status-of-Alaska-Wetlands.pdf; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service “Alaska,” http://www.fws.gov/refuges/refugeLocatorMaps/alaska.html)
Arizona is home to a wide variety of wetlands! In riparian zones you can find bosques (riparian forests), marshes, ciÃ©negas (a spring-fed wetland), and oxbow lakes, while tinajas (ephemeral pools), playas, and caldera lakes will sometimes be the only sources of water in the more arid landscapes. Although they cover less than one percent of the state, these wet areas are vitally important to local wildlife, serving as breeding and stopover habitat for many species of migratory birds and a permanent habitat for larger animals. Visitors can catch a glimpse of some of the 318 species of birds that depend on Havasu National Wildlife Refuge by visiting the restored wetland at Pintail Slough or the 4,000 acre Topock Marsh. Or, head over to Imperial National Wildlife Refuge to look for wintering cinnamon teal and bald eagles.
- For the best wildlife observation experience, remember these tips:
- Find a good place to sit quietly—this allows the wildlife to get used to your presence.
- Listen as well as look! Many species are masters of camouflage, so often you can hear more than you can see.
- Don't touch or feed the wildlife
- Dawn and dusk are the best times to observe—few animals will be out and about in the middle of a hot day.
- At these wetland sites, winter is the best time to look for migratory species. If you plan your trip for summer, try looking instead for permanent residents, such as great egrets or muskrat.
(Sources: Smith, T. M., & Smith, R. L. (2009). Coastal and Wetland Ecosystems. In B. Wilbur (Ed.), Elements of Ecology (6th ed., pp. 547). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings; USFWS “Havasu National Wildlife Refuge,” http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Havasu/; USFWS “Imperial National Wildlife Refuge,” http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Imperial/; USFWS “Imperial National Wildlife Refuge: Wildlife Watching Tips,” http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Imperial/wildlife/tips.html; USGS “Loss of Wetlands in the Southwestern United States,” http://geochange.er.usgs.gov/sw/impacts/hydrology/wetlands/)
Arkansas is home to bottomland hardwood forests. This type of wetland is one of the most productive ecosystems in the Southern United States, boasting more than 70 species of trees and the largest collection of flowering plants, birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians found anywhere in the region. Bottomland hardwood forests in this state generally grow in the floodplains of the Mississippi River and its tributaries, and are composed of deciduous forests of oak, gum, and bald cypress. A good place to check out these swamps is at White River National Wildlife Refuge! White River NWR contains one of the largest remaining bottomland hardwood forests in the Mississippi River Valley, and it serves as a major resting place for neotropical migratory songbirds on their way to and from Central and South America. Some 350,000 birds may winter at the Refuge, including the Mississippi Flyway's largest concentration of mallards. There is plenty to see in the summer as well, when visitors might catch a glimpse of one of the refuge's four bald eagle nests or find telltale signs of the area's black bears—the only remaining population of black bears native to Arkansas!
(Sources: Arkansas Multi-Agency Wetland Planning Team “Wetlands in Arkansas,” http://www.mawpt.org/wetlands/; EPA “Bottomland Hardwood,” http://water.epa.gov/type/wetlands/bottomland.cfm; Smith, T. M., & Smith, R. L. (2009). Coastal and Wetland Ecosystems. In B. Wilbur (Ed.), Elements of Ecology (6th ed., pp. 547). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings; USFWS “Profiles: White River National Wildlife Refuge,” http://www.fws.gov/refuges/profiles/index.cfm?id=43670; USFWS “White River National Wildlife Refuge,” http://www.fws.gov/whiteriver/)
California's wetland area has shrunk by 90%, from about 5,000,000 acres in the 1780s to 450,000 acres by the mid-1980s. About 300,000 of the remaining wetland acres are located in the Central Valley. California is so vast in size that many different types of wetlands exist, including vernal pools. These depressional wetlands are too shallow or small to form lakes or reservoirs and can be as small as size of a tire or as large as a football field. They depend on local runoff, groundwater and direct precipitation for their seasonal water sources. Unique species, such as the endangered and threatened California tiger salamander and the San Diego mesa mint, exist in and around vernal pools. These species can survive weeks of water inundation and months of aridity.
(Sources: Smith, T. M., & Smith, R. L. (2009). Coastal and Wetland Ecosystems. In B. Wilbur (Ed.), Elements of Ecology (6th ed., pp. 547). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings; Environmental Law Institute, “State Wetland Protection: Status, Trends, & Model Approaches. Appendix: State Profiles. California,” http://www.eli.org/sites/default/files/docs/core_states/California.pdf; Southern Wetlands Recovery Project,” http://scwrp.org/general-wetlands-information/; USFWS, “San Diego National Wildlife Refuge,” https://www.fws.gov/refuges/profiles/index.cfm?id=81720; State of California, “What are Depressional Wetlands?” http://www.mywaterquality.ca.gov/eco_health/wetlands/extent/types/depre…; California Chaparral Institute, “Vernal Pools: Liquid Sapphires of the Chapparel,” http://www.californiachaparral.org/vernalpools.html; State of California, “Boggs Lake Ecological Reserve â€“ Lake County,” http://www.dfg.ca.gov/lands/er/region2/boggs.html; Center for Natural Lands Management, “Pixley Vernal Pools,” http://www.cnlm.org/cms/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=66&It…;
A good place to find wetlands, or small pools, in Colorado is in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Rain is sporadic in the summer months for much of the park and temperatures can reach as high as 120 degrees Fahrenheit. In this arid environment what precipitation that does fall can collect in shallow depressions, or potholes, in the sandstone and igneous rock of the canyon rim. Though these miniature wetlands, or potholes, can dry up completely with the extreme temperature changes of the seasons, they are an important source of water to many desert animals. They are also home to a unique ecological community composed of species that have made the adaptions necessary to survive and thrive in these ephemeral pools. These animals can be sorted into three categories:
- Drought escapers: These species have some way of leaving the pool when it dries, whether by wing or by foot, using the water primarily to lay eggs and develop.
- Drought resistors: These species will revert to a dormant stage once their home has dried, sheltering themselves from desiccation within a tough, waterproof exoskeleton, and burrowing into the fine layer of mud coating the bottom of the pothole in order to avoid the damaging sun.
- Drought tolerators: These species are able to withstand a dramatic loss of their total body water—up to 92%! When precipitation refills the pothole, drought tolerators will become rehydrated and fully functional, a process known as cryptobiosis.
Click here to learn more about pothole wetlands and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park!
(Sources: NPS “Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park: Pothole Ecology—Ephemeral Pools” http://www.nps.gov/blca/naturescience/potholes.htm; Image courtesy of the National Park Service; Smith, T. M., & Smith, R. L. (2009). Coastal and Wetland Ecosystems. In B. Wilbur (Ed.), Elements of Ecology (6th ed., pp. 547). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings)
About 5% of Connecticut is covered in wetlands. During the last ice age (from approximately 80,000 to 16,500 years ago) the Laurentide Ice Sheet covered much of Canada and the northern United States, burying Connecticut and the Long Island Sound in up to 2,000 feet of ice. As the planet began to warm the glacier retreated north, alternately scouring and flooding the landscape as the enormous swath of ice broke apart and melted. Glacier pieces scraped across the terrain, grinding sediment and debris out as glacial till, forming hollows in the underlying bedrock, and flooding previously dry areas with meltwater. Shrubs and trees began to colonize these newly saturated, poorly drained areas, eventually forming most of Connecticut's existing wetlands. Today, the state's wetlands serve as vital habitat and areas of food production for fish, shellfish, waterfowl, shorebirds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians, all while helping to maintain water quality and protect against storm and flood damage.
To learn more about Connecticut's wetlands or see them in person, check out the wetlands on these public lands:
(Sources: Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection “Other State Parks and Forests,” http://www.ct.gov/deep/cwp/view.asp?a=2716&q=445284&deepNav_GID=1650; Metzler, K. & Tiner, R. (1992). Wetlands of Connecticut. (State Geological and Natural History Survey of Connecticut). Hartford, CT: Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection in cooperation with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Wetlands Inventory. Retrieved from http://www.fws.gov/northeast/ecologicalservices/pdf/WetlandsofConnectic…; NPS “Weir Farm National Historic Site,” http://www.nps.gov/wefa/index.htm; Smith, T. M., & Smith, R. L. (2009). Coastal and Wetland Ecosystems. In B. Wilbur (Ed.), Elements of Ecology (6th ed., pp. 547). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings)
Almost a quarter of Delaware is covered in wetlands. From seasonal to permanent, freshwater to saltwater, some 70 types of wetland have been identified within the state. Even for a seasoned biologist, it would be difficult to identify them all at a glance! An easier way to spot the wetlands is to look out for the most common ones, which in Delaware means vegetated, freshwater, waterlogged habitats, such as those around headwaters or in floodplains. A great place to see another kind of Delaware wetland is at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge—here you can spot more than 2,000 acres of salt marsh. Salt marshes are some of the most productive ecosystems in the world, serving as important nursery habitat for young fish, crabs, and other invertebrate species. Prime Hook is also home to freshwater marshes and wooded swamps. Due to its location on the Delaware Bay, the Refuge is a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance. No matter when you plan your visit to Prime Hook NWR, there will be an abundance of wildlife to enjoy.
Click here to learn more about the wetlands of Delaware and what you can do to protect them.
(Sources: Environmental Law Institute “Delaware Wetland Program Overview,” http://www.dnrec.delaware.gov/Admin/DelawareWetlands/Documents/ELI%20De…; Smith, T. M., & Smith, R. L. (2009). Coastal and Wetland Ecosystems. In B. Wilbur (Ed.), Elements of Ecology (6th ed., pp. 547). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings; Smith, T., & Smith, R. L. (2009). Ecosystem Energetics. In B. Wilbur (Ed.), Elements of Ecology (6th ed., pp. 432). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings; Tiner, R.W., M.A. Biddle, A.D. Jacobs, A.B. Rogerson and K.G. McGuckin. 2011. Delaware Wetlands: Status and Changes from 1992 to 2007. Cooperative National Wetlands Inventory Publication. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Northeast Region, Hadley, MA and the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, Dover, DE. Retrieved from http://www.dnrec.delaware.gov/Admin/DelawareWetlands/Documents/Delaware…; USFWS “Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge,” http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Prime_Hook/; USFWS “Prime Hook NWR: About the Refuge” http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Prime_Hook/about.html; USFWS “Prime Hook NWR: Seasons of Wildlife,” http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Prime_Hook/seasons_of_wildlife/index.html; Image courtesy of USFWS)
Florida is home to 20% of all wetlands in the United States. Depending on where you live in this peninsula state, you'll find different types of wetlands, including swamps, marshes, bayheads, bogs, cypress domes, sloughs, wet prairies, river swamps, tidal marshes, mangrove swamps, and more!
These wetlands are defined by their different characteristics, including salinity of the water, soil type, and the plants and animals living within the wetland. Visit the three National Wildlife Refuges in Florida listed below to explore different types of wetlands in person:
- St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1931, encompasses 70,000 acres spread across three counties in the eastern part of the Florida panhandle. You can see coastal marshes, islands, tidal creeks and estuaries here.
- Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge is located between Marco Island and Everglades City. The Refuge consists of 35,000 acres, including mangrove habitats, brackish marshes, and scattered ponds.
- National Key Deer Refuge, located in the Florida Keys, has over 9,200 acres of land consisting of salt marsh wetlands, mangrove forests, hardwood hammocks, and freshwater wetlands.
(Sources: Smith, T. M., & Smith, R. L. (2009). Coastal and Wetland Ecosystems. In B. Wilbur (Ed.), Elements of Ecology (6th ed., pp. 547). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings; Florida Department of Environmental Protection, “Homeowner's Guide to Wetlands,” http://www.dep.state.fl.us/water/wetlands/docs/erp/wetland_guide.pdf; University of Florida IFAS Extension, “Wetlands Near You,” http://soils.ifas.ufl.edu/wetlandextension/near.htm; Southwest Florida Water Management District,” http://www.swfwmd.state.fl.us/publications/files/waterweb_wetlands.pdf)
About 20% of Georgia is considered a wetland, with over 60 different types found across the state! A good place to see a number of these wetland expressions is at the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, with almost 402,000 acres (approximately 300,000 football fields!) featuring different wetland types including cypress swamps, marshes, and wet prairies. The refuge was established to protect the Okefenokee Swamp, one of the oldest and best preserved freshwater systems in the world. The swamp derives its name from a Choctaw Indian term meaning “quivering earth” or “land of the trembling earth.” This ground-shaking phenomenon is due to the wetland's saturated, inherently unstable substrate of peat beds overlaying a sand floor. Okefenokee Swamp's peat is formed when organic material, such as dead leaves and plants, accumulates in the water faster than it can fully decompose, creating anoxic (low oxygen) conditions that then prevent the material from decomposing. In this manner, the peat forms a carbon sink—by suspending the decomposition process, the peat impedes the accompanying production of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. The carbon is instead stored in the substrate where it can remain for thousands of years, earning Okefenokee Swamp the distinction of being a climate regulator.
(Sources: Environmental Law Institute “State Wetland Protection: Status, Trends, & Model Approaches. Appendix: State Profiles. Georgia,” http://www.eli.org/sites/default/files/docs/core_states/Georgia.pdf; EPA “Bogs,” http://water.epa.gov/type/wetlands/bog.cfm; EPA “Characteristic Mid-Atlantic Wetland Type—Peat Bogs,” http://www.epa.gov/reg3esd1/wetlands/peat_bogs.htm; Smith, T. M., & Smith, R. L. (2009). Coastal and Wetland Ecosystems. In B. Wilbur (Ed.), Elements of Ecology (6th ed., pp. 547). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings; USFWS “Okefenokee at a Glance,” http://www.fws.gov/okefenokee/Okefenokee%20at%20a%20Glance%20webpage.pdf; USFWS “Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge,” http://www.fws.gov/okefenokee/; USFWS “Profiles: Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge,” http://www.fws.gov/refuges/profiles/index.cfm?id=41590)
About 3% of Hawaii is covered in wetlands! Found across the islands, the various wetlands are home to endangered and endemic species—threatened wildlife not found anywhere else on earth. For instance, the freshwater marshes of Hanelei and Pearl Harbor National Wildlife Refuges contain the â€›alae â€›ula, or the Hawaiian moorhen, the bird credited in Hawaiian mythology with bringing humans fire from the gods. The pink-legged aeâ€›o (Hawaiian stilt) can be seen in the mudflats and pickle weed mats of HulÄ“â€›ia National Wildlife Refuge, and the world's rarest species of goose and the state bird of Hawaii, the nÄ“nÄ“, was reintroduced to the lowlands of KÄ«lauea Point National Wildlife Refuge. In addition to serving as a vital wildlife resource, the wetlands of Hawaii also help protect human habitat by acting as “bioshields” in the face of dangerous tsunamis. When these fast, powerful waves roll inland, coastal wetlands absorb some of the incoming water and help dissipate the wave's energy, reducing the destructive potential of these natural disasters.
To learn more about the wetlands of Hawai'i, check out these National Wildlife Refuges:
(Sources: Center for Biological Diversity “Hawaiian Goose,” http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/esa_works/profile_pages/Ha…; Environmental Law Institute “State Wetland Protection: Status, Trends, & Model Approaches. Appendix: State Profiles. Hawaii,” http://www.eli.org/sites/default/files/docs/core_states/Hawaii.pdf; Smith, T. M., & Smith, R. L. (2009). Coastal and Wetland Ecosystems. In B. Wilbur (Ed.), Elements of Ecology (6th ed., pp. 547). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings; United Nations Environment Programme and Ministry of Environment & Natural Resources of Sri Lanka “Sri Lanka: Post-Tsunami Environmental Assessment,” www.unep.org/tsunami/reports/Sri_Lanka_Report_2005.pdf; USFWS “Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge: Wildlife & Habitat,” http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Hanalei/wildlife_and_habitat/; USFWS “HulÄ“â€›ia National Wildlife Refuge: Endangered Birds of HulÄ“â€›ia,” http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Huleia/wildlife_and_habitat/Endangered_Birds_…; USFWS “KÄ«lauea Point National Wildlife Refuge: Hawaiian Goose,” http://www.fws.gov/nwrs/threecolumn.aspx?id=2147524554; USFWS “Pearl Harbor National Wildlife Refuge: Wildlife & Habitat,” http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Pearl_Harbor/wildlife_and_habitat.html)
About 1-2% of Idaho is covered in wetlands, and a great place to view some of these areas is Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge. Established as a migratory waterfowl refuge, Kootenai contains both permanent and seasonal freshwater marshes, allowing it to support more than 300 species of wildlife. The seasonal marshes are drained by the refuge staff in spring and summer so as to allow the germination of food plants needed by the resident waterfowl, whose populations can climb to 24,000-40,000 individuals. At Kootenai, emergent plants such as cattail and bulrush serve as nesting habitat for birds such as grebes, rails, and black terns, attracting tundra swans in fall and winter. Even though the wetlands across Idaho and Kootenai NWR are not overly large, it is estimated that they are critical for the survival of 80-90 percent of the state's wildlife species.
(Sources: Environmental Law Institute “State Wetland Protection: Status, Trends, & Model Approaches. Appendix: State Profiles, Idaho,” http://www.eli.org/sites/default/files/docs/core_states/Idaho.pdf; Smith, T. M., & Smith, R. L. (2009). Coastal and Wetland Ecosystems. In B. Wilbur (Ed.), Elements of Ecology (6th ed., pp. 547). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings; USFWS “Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge: Habitats,” http://www.fws.gov/refuge/kootenai/wildlife_and_habitat/habitats.html; USGS “Classification of Wetlands and Deepwater Habitats of the United States: Emergent Wetland,” http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/resource/wetlands/classwet/emergent.htm)
About 2% of Illinois is covered in wetlands! The majority of the state's wetlands are comprised of bottomland hardwood forests, which are temporarily or seasonally flooded forested areas found alongside rivers or streams. A good way to identify these ecosystems is to look for the buttressed bald cypress—these trees are a mainstay of Illinois' bottomland hardwood forests, and are easy to spot as their trunks dramatically swell and flare at the swamp's high water mark. This type of wetland historically covered much of the southern coastal states, and today the northernmost reach of its territory can be found in southern Illinois and along the Illinois and Mississippi rivers, especially in Clinton, Jackson and St. Clair counties. These highly productive, nutrient-rich ecosystems help support 90 % of Illinois' amphibians and almost 80 % of the state's mammals and reptiles. In addition to serving as an important wildlife home, bottomland hardwood forests also make for good neighbors! When flooded, these wetlands transfer some of their nutrient-rich organic matter downstream, improving aquatic habitat in connecting rivers and streams.
To visit some of the wetlands of Illinois, check out Middle Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge!
(Sources: Environmental Law Institute “State Wetland Protection: Status, Trends, & Model Approaches. Appendix: State Profiles. Illinois” http://www.eli.org/sites/default/files/docs/core_states/Illinois.pdf; EPA “Bottomland Hardwoods,” http://water.epa.gov/type/wetlands/bottomland.cfm; Illinois Department of Natural Resources “Wetlands: Biological Functions” http://www.dnr.state.il.us/wetlands/ch2b.htm; Smith, T. M., & Smith, R. L. (2009). Coastal and Wetland Ecosystems. In B. Wilbur (Ed.), Elements of Ecology (6th ed., pp. 547). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings; Suloway, L., and Hubbell, M. 1994. Wetlands resources of Illinois: an analysis and atlas. Illinois Natural History Survey Special Publication 15. Retrieved from http://www.fws.gov/wetlands/_Documents/Wetland-Resources-of-Illinois-An…; USDA “North Central Region: Bottomland Hardwoods Web-Based Forest Management Guide” http://www.nrs.fs.fed.us/fmg/nfmg/bl_hardwood/; USFWS “Middle Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge” http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Middle_Mississippi_River/)
Wetlands are found in every single county of Indiana, from swamps and bogs in the northeast, to wet prairies in the northwest, river swamps in the southwest, and springs and lowland swamps in the south-central region. Each of these wetlands act as sponges—in times of heavy rainfall and snowmelt they absorb large volumes of water, decreasing the potential for flood damage and reducing the flow's erosive force. In drier times, the wetlands will slowly release their stored water, helping to recharge the underlying aquifers and keep rivers and streams flowing. This service is particularly important, as 70 percent of Indiana residents rely on groundwater for all or part of their drinking water needs! The next time you turn on your tap, use your imagination: what kinds of wetlands do you think your glass of water has seen?
(Sources: Indiana Department of Environmental Management “Getting Your Feet Wet” http://www.in.gov/idem/wetlands/files/getting_your_feet_wet_brochure.pdf; Indiana Department of Environmental Management “Importance of Wetlands” http://www.in.gov/idem/wetlands/2335.htm; Indiana Department of Environmental Management “What are Wetlands?” http://www.in.gov/idem/wetlands/2336.htm; Indiana Department of Natural Resources “Wetlands in Indiana” http://www.in.gov/dnr/naturepreserve/7384.htm; Smith, T. M., & Smith, R. L. (2009). Coastal and Wetland Ecosystems. In B. Wilbur (Ed.), Elements of Ecology (6th ed., pp. 547). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings; USFWS “Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge” http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Patoka_River/)
Northern Iowa is the southern-most reach of the prairie pothole region, a swath of pockmarked terrain across Canada, Montana, Minnesota, Iowa, and North and South Dakota, formed during the last ice age as the retreating Laurentide Ice Sheet scoured and eroded depressions into the landscape. Precipitation and groundwater collected in these resulting hollows, creating thousands of miniature, often seasonal wetlands known as potholes or sloughs. One of the most important wetlands regions in the world, this area serves as only 10 % of North America's waterfowl breeding habitat but is home to over half of all North American migratory waterfowl populations.
Prairie potholes are not Iowa's only wetlands! Fens are found on the outskirts of the pothole region, fed by cool, mineral-rich, oxygen-poor groundwater, facilitating the formation of a thick layer of peat. The relatively high concentration of minerals in the substrate allows fens to support a diverse plant and animal community, including numerous state-listed rare and endangered species. Additionally, the process of peat formation serves to trap nitrogen, the most common pollutant in Iowa's drinking water, helping to improve water quality!
Check out Union Slough National Wildlife Refuge to learn more about Iowa's prairie potholes and see them in person!
(Sources: EPA “Fens” http://water.epa.gov/type/wetlands/fen.cfm; EPA “Prairie Potholes” http://water.epa.gov/type/wetlands/potholes.cfm; National Resources Conservation Service. (2005). Restoring Iowa Wetlands: A snapshot of Iowa's wetland types, benefits, restoration processes and programs for land users. Retrieved from www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/nrcs142p2_006832.pdf; Iowa Association of Naturalists. (2001). Iowa Wetlands. Iowa's Biological Communities Series. (IAN-204). Ames, IA: Iowa State University Extension Service. Retrieved from: http://www.extension.iastate.edu/publications/ian204.pdf; Iowa Geological & Water Survey “Wetlands: Their Geological Connection” http://www.igsb.uiowa.edu/browse/wetlands/wetlands.htm; Smith, T. M., & Smith, R. L. (2009). Coastal and Wetland Ecosystems. In B. Wilbur (Ed.), Elements of Ecology (6th ed., pp. 547). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings; USFWS “Union Slough National Wildlife Refuge: Wildlife & Habitat” http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Union_Slough/; USGS “Wetlands of the Prairie Pothole Region: Invertebrate Species Composition, Ecology, and Management” http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/resource/wetlands/pothole/prairie.htm)
Kansas is home to two very important wetlands—the freshwater marshes of Cheyenne Bottoms and the salt marshes of Quivira National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). Cheyenne Bottoms is part of the Central Flyway, serving as a resting and feeding area for one quarter million waterfowl and nearly half of all North American shorebirds migrating east of the Rocky Mountains. It's one of the most important shorebird migration points in the Western Hemisphere. Quivira NWR is home to a very rare type of wetland—the inland salt marsh. Typically, salt marshes are found on the coast and owe their salinity to the incoming tides. Inland, the salt must come from an alternative source—at Quivira NWR, groundwater percolates through a buried salt deposit, dissolving and incorporating the salt into the water that then surfaces in the refuge's Big and Little Salt Marshes. The high level of salinity in the marsh allows the wetland to support salt-tolerant plant species, such as inland salt grass and seepweed, which help support large populations of migratory waterfowl. Together, Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira NWR can host over 90% of the world's population of bird species, including stilt sandpipers and white-rumped sandpipers. They also feed and house many threatened and endangered species such as whooping crane, bald eagle, peregrine falcon, and piping plover.
(Sources: Fort Hays State University “Kansas Wetlands Education Center: Wetlands of International Importance” http://wetlandscenter.fhsu.edu/about/wetlands-of-international-importan…; Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism “Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area” http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Quivira/visit/visitor_activities/birding_quiv…; USFWS “Quivira National Wildlife Refuge” http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Quivira/; Smith, T. M., & Smith, R. L. (2009). Coastal and Wetland Ecosystems. In B. Wilbur (Ed.), Elements of Ecology (6th ed., pp. 547). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings; The Nature Conservancy “Kansas: Cheyenne Bottoms Preserve” http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/…; USFWS “Quivira National Wildlife Refuge: Salt Marsh” http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Quivira/wildlife_and_habitat/salt_marsh.html)
Wetlands can be found in each of Kentucky's 120 counties! One of the commonwealth's largest wetland sites is the locally endangered bottomland hardwood forest of Clarks River National Wildlife Refuge. Bottomland hardwood forests are temporarily or seasonally flooded forested wetlands, dominated by deciduous trees able to withstand prolonged flooded conditions. Generally found in the floodplains of rivers and streams in the southeast and south central United States, nutrients from nearby river and stream systems feed these wetlands, causing them to develop into some of the most biologically productive ecosystems found on land. These high levels of productivity allow the bottomland hardwood forests to support a wide variety of wildlife â€“ they are one of the last remaining habitats in Kentucky for migratory songbird populations, as well as a wide variety of freshwater mussels, amphibians, reptiles and fish. In addition to being good home for wildlife, bottomland hardwood forests also make for great neighbors! The thick, woody vegetation impedes floodwaters, reducing their volume, velocity and sediment load, protecting nearby communities and agricultural sites from potential storm damage.
For fun, educational activities to try at Clarks River National Wildlife Refuge (or any natural site), check out the US Fish and Wildlife Service's The Book of Stuff to Do Outside.
(Sources: EPA “Bottomland Hardwoods” http://water.epa.gov/type/wetlands/bottomland.cfm; Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife “Kentucky Afield for Teachers Program 3: Wetlands and Waterfowl” http://fw.ky.gov/Education/Documents/wetlands.pdf; Smith, T. M., & Smith, R. L. (2009). Coastal and Wetland Ecosystems. In B. Wilbur (Ed.), Elements of Ecology (6th ed., pp. 547). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings; USFWS “Clarks River National Wildlife Refuge: About the Refuge” http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Clarks_River/about.html; USFWS “Clarks River National Wildlife Refuge: Bottomland Hardwood Forest” http://www.fws.gov/refuge/clarks_river/blhf.html; USFWS “The Book of Stuff to Do Outside” http://www.fws.gov/letsgooutside/docs/kids/book-of-stuff%20to%20do%20Ou…)
Louisiana is home to about 40% of all coastal wetlands in the conterminous United States! A large portion of the state's wetlands are found on the coast, marking the transition between the terrestrial and marine environments, forming an ecotone. This positioning between the two ecosystems means that the coastal wetlands are influenced by both of these spheres—salty (saline) waters inundate the marshes with the incoming tides, and nutrients and sediment pouring in from the rivers and streams feed and fortify the area. These rich, fertile marshes span a gradient of salinities (salt concentrations) stretching from the sea up to 60 miles inland, encompassing saline emergent wetlands, brackish marshes (with intermediate levels of salt), and freshwater wet meadows. The variance and sheer size of this system means that Louisiana's coastal wetlands can support a wide variety of wildlife, contributing 28 percent to the total volume of U.S. fisheries, providing winter habitat for over half of the Mississippi Flyway waterfowl population, and sheltering six federally listed threatened and endangered species. In addition to feeding and housing these ecologically and commercially important wildlife species, Louisiana's coastal wetlands also serve to protect the coast! Rivers and streams pouring off of the continental shelf into the ocean must first pass through these flat, densely vegetated areas, allowing suspended sediment to settle out of the water and excess nutrients to be taken up by the wetland vegetation, protecting coastal marine species. Looking inland, the marshes serve to attenuate storm surge before dangerous waves reach coastal communities, helping to mitigate the negative impact of storms and coastal flooding, protecting life and property.
There are many great places to go to learn more about Louisiana's wetlands, here are just a few:
- Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve
- Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge
- Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge
(Sources: Louisiana Coastal Area “How Wetlands Were Created” http://www.lca.gov/learn.aspx#; NOAA “About Habitat” http://www.habitat.noaa.gov/abouthabitat/index.html; Smith, T. M., & Smith, R. L. (2009). Coastal and Wetland Ecosystems. In B. Wilbur (Ed.), Elements of Ecology (6th ed., pp. 547). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings; USDOI “Chapter 8: Coastal Louisiana” http://www.doi.gov/pmb/oepc/wetlands2/v2ch8.cfm; USGS “Louisiana Coastal Wetlands: A Resource at Risk” http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/la-wetlands/)
In Maine, a good place to find a wetland is in Acadia National Park, where over 20% of the park falls into this ecosystem category! This park is home to many different types of wetlands and other aquatic resources, including marine aquatic beds, intertidal shellfish flats, salt marshes, freshwater marshes, riparian wetlands and peatlands. This landscape of different wetlands hosts a robustly biodiverse population of plants and animals, stratified by their relationship with the surrounding water. Species that prefer the slightly higher ground include white pine, white-tailed deer, and frog and salamander species that rely on the flooded wetlands of spring for their yearly breeding. Moving slightly closer to the water, you can find muskrats, beavers and pickerel frogs hiding in the cattails, while otters, snapping turtles, and water striders call aquatic areas of the wetlands home.
(Sources: EPA “What are Wetlands?” http://water.epa.gov/type/wetlands/what.cfm; NPS “Acadia National Park” http://www.nps.gov/acad/index.htm; NPS “A Guide's Guide to Acadia National Park” http://www.nps.gov/acad/upload/Guide-s-Guide-2099-KB.pdf; Smith, T. M., & Smith, R. L. (2009). Coastal and Wetland Ecosystems. In B. Wilbur (Ed.), Elements of Ecology (6th ed., pp. 547). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings; USGS “Hydrogeomorphic Classification for Wetlands on Mt. Desert Island” http://pubs.usgs.gov/sir/2006/5162/pdf/SIR2006-5162.pdf;)
Maryland's wetlands are home to the largest east coast population of breeding bald eagles north of Florida! These birds live at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, part of the Chesapeake Marshlands National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which protects over 30,000 acres of wetlands along the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia. Within the bounds of the complex, visitors can find freshwater and saltwater marshes, seasonally flooded lowlands, green tree reservoirs, and a unique type of depressional wetland called a “Delmarva bay.” Wetlands such as these comprise almost 10% of Maryland's land cover and are a crucial component of the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem and the Maryland economy—nearly all freshwater finfish and shellfish species that are harvested commercially or for sport require the shallow waters of coastal wetlands for various life stages. Other commercially important species, such as the American oyster, complete their entire life cycles in estuarine waters, relying on the wetlands to filter water entering the estuary so as to maintain favorable habitat quality. The wetlands are equally valuable to avian species, providing a winter home to many migratory waterfowl on the Atlantic Flyway.
Check out these sites to learn more about Maryland's wetlands!
(Sources: Maryland Department of the Environment “Wetlands of Maryland” http://www.mde.state.md.us/programs/Water/WetlandsandWaterways/Document…; Smith, T. M., & Smith, R. L. (2009). Coastal and Wetland Ecosystems. In B. Wilbur (Ed.), Elements of Ecology (6th ed., pp. 547). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings; Tiner, R. W. & D. G. Burke. (1995). Wetlands of Maryland. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ecological Services, Region 5, Hadley, MA and Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Annapolis, MD. Cooperative publication. Retrieved from: http://www.fws.gov/northeast/ecologicalservices/pdf/wetlands/MD_wetland…; USFWS “Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge: Wildlife and Habitat” http://www.fws.gov/blackwater/wildlife.html)
Wetlands can be found across the state of Massachusetts! From salt marshes to dune swales and red maple swamps to cranberry bogs, these areas play important roles in the state's economy, ecosystems, and communities. Coastal wetlands such as salt and brackish marshes are spawning and nursery areas for many saltwater and freshwater fish such as herring, flounder, sunfish, and bass. Tidal flats and eelgrass beds, meanwhile, are crucial for shellfish populations, serving as feeding and shelter areas for crabs, clams, and bay scallops. The fish and shellfish species that depend on the wetlands support the state's commercial and recreational fishing industries, providing sustenance and income for these communities. Coastal wetlands also protect those living in their vicinity by absorbing wave energy and reducing wave height during storms. Even when the weather isn't quite so bad, wetland plants help bind the shoreline soils, reducing erosion of valuable property and wildlife habitat.
To see some of these important ecosystems in person, check out Cape Cod National Seashore. This 44,600 acre area is managed by the National Park Service and contains a wealth of different types of wetlands. Over 450 species of amphibians, reptiles, fish, birds, and mammals depend on this area, including 25 federally protected species, such as the eastern spadefoot toad. Amphibians are the objects of a long-term breeding survey across the park's wetlands. To get a sense of the amphibian populations, technicians rely on call counts—listening to the type and abundance of calls at each study site. Learn more and try your hand at call counts here!
(Sources: Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs “Wetlands: Our â€˜Common Wealth'” http://www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/massdep/water/watersheds/wetlands-our-…; NPS “Cape Cod National Seashore: Amphibians” http://www.nps.gov/caco/naturescience/amphibians.htm; Smith, T. M., & Smith, R. L. (2009). Coastal and Wetland Ecosystems. In B. Wilbur (Ed.), Elements of Ecology (6th ed., pp. 547). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings: Tiner, R.W. 2010. Wetlands of Cape Cod and the Islands, Massachusetts: Results of the National Wetlands Inventory and Landscape-level Functional Assessment. National Wetlands Inventory report. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Northeast Region, Hadley, MA. Retrieved from http://www.fws.gov/northeast/wetlands/publications/wetlands%20of%20cape…)
Michigan is home to over 30 different types of wetlands! The last ice age set the stage for these ecosystems, as ice from the retreating Laurentide Ice Sheet scoured and melted across the landscape, carving out depressions and inundating the region with meltwater. Isolated chunks of ice melted into kettle lakes, which eventually filled with plant debris or were colonized by emergent vegetation and shrubs, triggering their transformation into various wetlands. Today, these ecosystems can be broadly sorted into four main categories: marshes, swamps, bogs, and fens. Acre for acre, these wetlands produce more wildlife and plants than any other Michigan habitat type—it's no surprise then that half of all of the state's rare plant species and 41 of the state's listed threatened and endangered animal species depend on these ecosystems. Closer to the Great Lakes, there's a special region of wetlands referred to as the Great Lakes marsh, found alongside the lake shores, tributaries, and connecting channels, including the Detroit, St. Clair, and St. Mary's rivers. This special type of emergent marsh is extremely productive and a critical nesting and feeding area for North America's migratory waterfowl and shorebird populations.
To visit some of Michigan's wetlands near you, check out this list from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources! Sites are sorted by wetland type, available facilities, and more.
(Sources: Michigan Department of Environmental Quality “Michigan's Rare Wetlands” http://www.michigan.gov/deq/0,4561,7-135-3313_3687-100355--,00.html; Michigan Department of Environmental Quality “Michigan Wetlands” http://www.michiganltap.org/sites/ltap/files/workshops/materials/8%20Lo…; Michigan Department of Natural Resources “Wetlands” http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-153-10370_22664-61132--,00.html; Michigan Department of Natural Resources “Where Can Examples of Wetlands Be Seen?” http://www.michigan.gov/documents/wetland_table_57288_7.pdf; Michigan Department of Natural Resources “What is a Wetland?” http://www.michigandnr.com/publications/pdfs/wildlife/viewingguide/eco_…; Michigan Natural Features Inventory “Michigan's Natural Communities: Great Lakes Marsh” http://mnfi.anr.msu.edu/communities/community.cfm?id=10671; Smith, T. M., & Smith, R. L. (2009). Coastal and Wetland Ecosystems. In B. Wilbur (Ed.), Elements of Ecology (6th ed., pp. 547). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings)
About 19% of Minnesota is covered in wetlands! Though prairie potholes may be the most famous due to their importance for migrating water birds and shorebirds, there are many other types of wetlands in the state. Bogs, where the soil is made up of peat, can be found in North-central Minnesota, and they can be seen in Lake Bemidji and Hayes Lake State Parks. If you're looking for another good place to view migratory birds and wildlife, try Lake Shetek, Sakatah Lake and William O'Brien State Parks, where shallow and deep marshes are plentiful. Shrubby and forested wetlands, better known as swamps, can usually be found alongside rivers or in old lake basins—for some examples of this wetland check out Scenic, Wild River, and Lac Qui Parle State Parks. Perhaps the trickiest ones to spot are the basins—these wetlands are small, isolated from the stream network, and they may only be saturated seasonally, so the best time to find them is during the wet season. These areas, which you might catch a glimpse of at Fort Snelling State Park, are important habitat for breeding amphibians. Finally, if you're into the classics, you can see Minnesota's portion of the famous Prairie Pothole Region at Sibley, Crow Wing, and Maplewood State Parks, or head over to Hamden Slough National Wildlife Refuge!
To visit these parks and learn more about their native wetlands, check out this list of Minnesota State Parks with wetlands.
(Sources: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources “Types of Wetlands” http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/wetlands/types.html; Minnesota Department of Natural Resources “Wetlands to Visit” http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/wetlands/visit.html; Minnesota Pollution Control Agency “Wetlands in Minnesota” http://www.pca.state.mn.us/index.php/water/water-types-and-programs/sur…; Smith, T. M., & Smith, R. L. (2009). Coastal and Wetland Ecosystems. In B. Wilbur (Ed.), Elements of Ecology (6th ed., pp. 547). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings; USFWS “Hamden Slough” http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Hamden_Slough/)
About 13% of Mississippi is covered in wetlands. Coastal wetlands, freshwater marshes, wet pine savanna, and swamplands can be found across the state, helping to filter pollutants, contain floodwaters, and sustain important wildlife populations. The predominant wetland of this group is bottomland hardwood forest, a type of river swamp. This ecosystem generally flourishes in the broad floodplains surrounding rivers and streams, nourished by the nutrients and organic material left behind by overwash from neighboring river and stream systems. Trees typical to the bottomland hardwoods include water oak, American elm, bald cypress, and tupelo gum, but don't worry if you're not up on your botany! An easy way to spot the type of trees indicative of bottomland hardwood forests is to look for trunks that flare as they reach toward the ground—this wider base (buttress) helps with stability in saturated soil, indicating that the area is likely prone to flooding. Another giveaway is the appearance of a “knee”—imagine you're lying in the bathtub and you bend your legs and bring your feet towards you, causing your knees to stick out of the water. Bald cypress trees sometimes have conical root appendages protruding from the water surrounding the bases of their trunks that look very similar your knees in the bathtub. As of yet scientists don't know the exact purpose of these knees, but there is some thought that they may help the tree breathe.
To visit some of Mississippi's wetlands and learn more, check out these National Wildlife Refuges!
(Sources: Burns, R. M., & Honkala, B. H. (1990). Silvics of North America (Vol 1: Conifers). Agricultural Handbook 654. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington D.C. Retrieved from http://www.na.fs.fed.us/pubs/silvics_manual/Volume_1/taxodium/distichum…; Environmental Law Institute “State Wetland Protection: Status, Trends, & Model Approaches. Appendix: State Profiles. Mississippi” http://www.eli.org/sites/default/files/docs/core_states/Mississippi.pdf; EPA “Bottomland Hardwoods” http://water.epa.gov/type/wetlands/bottomland.cfm; Smith, T. M., & Smith, R. L. (2009). Coastal and Wetland Ecosystems. In B. Wilbur (Ed.), Elements of Ecology (6th ed., pp. 547). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings)
Nine different types of natural wetlands are found across the state of Missouri! From bottomland prairies to groundwater seep wetlands and swamps, these wetlands areas are the primary habitat for 200 species of plants and animals considered rare or endangered in the state, including all of Missouri's 43 species of amphibian. In addition to providing a home for these valuable wildlife species, the wetlands also help keep their human neighbors safe! Most of the state's wetlands are found in riparian zones—areas near or bordering Missouri's two major rivers and 4,000 streams. This proximity allows the wetlands to absorb and slow dangerous floodwaters before they reach nearby communities, helping to reduce damage to life and property. Wetlands adjacent to river and stream systems also mitigate erosion—the water current is slowed by the presence of the wetland vegetation on the riverbanks and the roots of the wetland plants help to hold the soil in place. This reduction in erosion can mean less land loss for property owners, as well as improved water quality downstream for fish and waterfowl.
To see some of Missouri's wetlands in person, check out Big Muddy National Fish & Wildlife Refuge, Clarence Cannon National Wildlife Refuge, Great River National Wildlife Refuge, Mingo National Wildlife Refuge, or Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge.
(Sources: Missouri Department of Conservation “The Wetlands of Missouri” http://mdc.mo.gov/conmag/2001/09/wetlands-missouri?page=0,1; Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Division of Geology and Land Survey. Missouri Wetlands: A Vanishing Resource (Water Resources Report No. 39). Rolla, MO: Jane E. Epperson. Retrieved from http://www.dnr.mo.gov/pubs/WR39.pdf; Smith, T. M., & Smith, R. L. (2009). Coastal and Wetland Ecosystems. In B. Wilbur (Ed.), Elements of Ecology (6th ed., pp. 547). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings)
Montana is home to quite a few wetlands! From prairie potholes to saline wetlands, fens to seep and springs, Montana contains a wide diversity of wetlands. Many of these areas owe their existence to a major event in the past—the Cordilleran Ice Sheet and the Laurentide Ice Sheet, for example, carved out and flooded much of the prairie pothole region, and historic shifts in the underlying bedrock can account for instances where groundwater trickles to the surface in seep and spring wetlands. However, wetlands in Montana are still being formed today by much smaller engineers—beavers! Rather infamously, beavers fell trees; partially due to their food needs (they feed on bark and cambium, the soft tissue found just beneath the outer layer of bark), and partially to access the smaller branches they use to construct their dams. The combination of tree felling and dam building can block small rivers and streams, creating shallow ponds and areas of saturated soils—otherwise known as wetlands! By stopping or slowing the water to form ponds, the beavers allow for the colonization of water-loving vegetation that prefers the slower, shallower warmer waters of the newly created wetland, with the wildlife species that depend on these plants soon to follow. As older wetlands fall to the natural succession of prairie and forest species, the creation of these beaver ponds is vital to the continued existence of many wetland-dependent plant and animal species.
(Sources: Montana Department of Environmental Quality “Montana Wetland Information Clearinghouse: Beaver Ponds” http://deq.mt.gov/wqinfo/wetlands/BeaverPonds.mcpx; Montana Department of Environmental Quality “Montana Wetland Information Clearinghouse: Wetlands Examples” http://deq.mt.gov/wqinfo/wetlands/WetlandExamplesMain.mcpx; NatureWorks “Beaver—Castor Canadensis” http://www.nhptv.org/natureworks/beaver.htm; NPS “Glacier National Park: Wetlands, Marshes, and Swamps” http://www.nps.gov/glac/naturescience/wetlands.htm; Smith, T. M., & Smith, R. L. (2009). Coastal and Wetland Ecosystems. In B. Wilbur (Ed.), Elements of Ecology (6th ed., pp. 547). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings; University of Massachusetts Cooperative Extension System “Beavers in Massachusetts” http://www.bio.umass.edu/biology/conn.river/beaver.html; USGS “Restoring Montana's Pothole Wetlands: Demonstration Sites and Adaptive Management” http://www.nrmsc.usgs.gov/science/pothole_wetlands)
Nebraska has many acres of wetlands, broken up into complexes: regions of wetlands with similar form and function. Several different wetland types can be grouped in a single complex—for instance, both wet meadows and fens can be found in the Sandhills wetland complex, a wide region covering much of the north-central part of the state where the wetlands form as groundwater intercepts the surface of the land. In the semi-arid areas of the southern half of the state, playa wetlands can be found in wind-formed, nearly circular depressions. These wetlands are underlain by a clay layer that impedes drainage and limits access to the water table, meaning that the Rainwater Basins, the Central Table Playas, and the Southwest Playas are mostly fed by rain and runoff. The smaller two complexes are the saline/alkaline wetlands and the riverine wetlands. The saline or alkaline wetlands are a bit of an inland anomaly—these ecosystems are saturated with salt water! For the saline areas, such as the Eastern Saline wetlands, the salt is incorporated by groundwater as it passes through underground rock formations laden with these salts, and then ferried to the surface with the welling of the groundwater. The alkaline areas, such as the Western Alkaline wetlands, instead gather their salt via concentration by evaporation—the minimal salt content of the freshwater is left in the bed of the wetland as the water evaporates, allowing the salt to accumulate over time. Finally, the riverine wetlands are found on the banks of the state's rivers and streams, absorbing floodwaters during times of heavy precipitation and helping to maintain flow in dry times. All of these wetlands are important to waterfowl, water birds, and other wildlife—75% of Nebraska's federally endangered and threatened wildlife species use these areas, as do 70% of the state-listed threatened and endangered species!
(Sources: Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. (2005). Guide to Nebraska's wetlands and their conservation needs (2nd ed.). Lincoln, NE: Ted LaGrange. Retrieved from: http://outdoornebraska.ne.gov/wildlife/programs/wetlands/pdf/wetlandsgu…; Smith, T. M., & Smith, R. L. (2009). Coastal and Wetland Ecosystems. In B. Wilbur (Ed.), Elements of Ecology (6th ed., pp. 547). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings)
You might think of the desert when you think of Nevada, but the state is home to thousands of acres of wetlands! Alkaline wetlands, riparian areas, freshwater marshes and wet meadows break up the aridity of the landscape, providing a cool reprieve for hundreds of species of birds, rare plants, mammals, amphibians, reptiles and even fish! It can be difficult to imagine wetlands in areas that are defined by minimal amounts of precipitation, such as the Great Basin and Mojave Deserts—how do the wetlands stay wet? In some cases, such as the wet meadows at Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, the necessary moisture comes from underground sources. Generally, rock and sediment are deposited in layers, and over time the composition of the rock layers will differ—some layers will be softer or more brittle than others, and some deposits will be able to hold water better than those above and below. Disturbances in the earth's crust can cause these once-horizontal layers to tilt, exposing previously buried layers to the surface. In this manner, water-bearing rock can channel water from great depths and thousands of miles away, guiding the discharge of an aquifer to the surface, creating a wetland in an otherwise arid region. These wetlands serve as an oasis for wildlife, providing an invaluable source of freshwater.
To see some of Nevada's wetlands in person, check out:
- Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge
- Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge
- Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge
- Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge
(Sources: NPS “Great Basin National Park: Deserts” http://www.nps.gov/grba/naturescience/deserts.htm; Smith, T. M., & Smith, R. L. (2009). Coastal and Wetland Ecosystems. In B. Wilbur (Ed.), Elements of Ecology (6th ed., pp. 547). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings; USFWS “Ash Meadows: Wildlife and Habitat” http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Ash_Meadows/wildlife_and_habitat/index.html; U.S. Geological Survey. (2001.) Estimates of Evapotranspiration from the Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge Area, Ruby Valley, Northeastern Nevada, May 1999-October 2000 (Water-Resources Investigations Report 01-4234). Carson City, NV: Berger, D. L., et al. Retrieved from http://pubs.usgs.gov/wri/wri014234/book/wri014234.pdf)
About 5% of New Hampshire is made up of wetlands. These areas are concentrated in Rockingham, Coos, Hillsborough, and Merrimack counties, which together account for over half of all of the wetland sites in the state. The main types of wetlands found here and across the state are marshes, scrub-shrub, peatlands, forested wetlands and vernal pools. Vernal pools are the least common of this list and provide unique habitat for many threatened species of plants and animals. These wetlands are seasonally flooded depressions, filling with water in the spring from rain and snowmelt, and drying up in the fall and winter. Across the landscape they provide vital access to fresh water, food and resting areas for many species of wildlife, including birds, snakes, mammals, and turtles, such as the state-endangered Blanding's turtle.
What sets the vernal pools apart from many other types of wetlands is the type of wildlife that their cycle of flooding and drying can support—the seasonal drying means that the pools cannot house larger aquatic predators, making these wetlands a safe haven for smaller prey species, especially the eggs and larvae of amphibians and invertebrates. These areas are essential breeding habitats for species like wood frogs, spotted salamanders, Jefferson salamanders, marbled salamanders and fairy shrimp. To accommodate the unpredictable length of the time the vernal pools will spend flooded, some species of salamander are able to transform from their aquatic to their terrestrial stage early if the pool threatens to dry quickly, or hold out and transform later and at a larger size if the pool stays saturated for a longer time.
To learn more about vernal pools in New Hampshire, check out this helpful brochure from the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative.
(Sources: New Hampshire Cooperative Extension “New Hampshire Wildlife Action Plan Habitat Stewardship Series: Vernal Pools” extension.unh.edu/resources/files/Resource000417_Rep439.pdf; Smith, T. M., & Smith, R. L. (2009). Coastal and Wetland Ecosystems. In B. Wilbur (Ed.), Elements of Ecology (6th ed., pp. 547). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings; Tappan, A. & Marchand, M. (Eds.). (2004). Identification and Documentation of Vernal Pools in New Hampshire. Concord: NH New Hampshire Fish and Game Department Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program. Retrieved from: http://www.wildlife.state.nh.us/Wildlife/Nongame/RAARP/Vernal_pool_manu…; Tiner, R. W. (2007). New Hampshire Wetlands and Waters: Results of the National Wetlands Inventory. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Northeast Region, Hadley, MA. NWI Technical Report. Retrieved from http://www.fws.gov/wetlands/Documents/New-Hampshire-Wetlands-and-Waters…)
Many of New Jersey's wetlands date back to the last glacial period! From 80,000 to 18,000 years ago, thick sheets of ice covered much of North America, including northern New Jersey, which was buried nearly a mile deep. Southern New Jersey was also affected, where the tundra landscape would fit in with modern-day Alaska. At the time, nearly one-third of the globe was covered in ice, and with such an extent of the planet's water frozen, sea level was as much as 425 feet lower than present-day, putting New Jersey's coastline 80 miles east of where we see it today. As the planet warmed, the glaciers retreated, scouring indentations in the terrain and leaving large chunks of ice to melt in their wake. Lakes formed in the depressions with the glacial meltwater, where they eventually drained and dried to the point of becoming the many forested and emergent wetlands that dominate the northern half of the state. The southern half of New Jersey saw the ocean advance inland, where the marine waters met with the tons of sediment being eroded from the continent by the glacial melt, triggering the formation of the coastal marshes. Today, both of these wetland areas serve to improve water quality, filtering out sediment and chemical pollutants which could pose a hazard to human and wildlife communities alike.
Here are just a few of New Jersey's public lands that contain wetlands:
- Delaware & Raritan Canal State Park
- Kittatinny Valley State Park
- Cape May Point State Park
- Wharton State Forest
(Sources: Smith, T. M., & Smith, R. L. (2009). Coastal and Wetland Ecosystems. In B. Wilbur (Ed.), Elements of Ecology (6th ed., pp. 547). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings; Tiner, R. W., Jr. 1985. Wetlands of New Jersey. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Wetlands Inventory, Newton Corner, MA. Retrieved from: http://www.aswm.org/wetlandsonestop/wetlands_of_new_jersey.pdf)
Wetlands can be found across the state of New Mexico! These areas form important habitat for birds migrating on the Central Flyway to rest and feed, and provide vital water resources to many species of mammals, reptiles, amphibians and even fish in the semi-arid landscape. While some of these wetlands form in the floodplains of rivers and streams, others seem to be isolated in dry areas—these wetlands are made possible by the ancient sea that covered the state during the Paleozoic Era, 250 million years ago. As aquatic invertebrates died and a large barrier reef was formed, calcium carbonate deposits built up on the sea floor. When the waters receded and dried, minerals called “evaporites” formed in the empty basins, crystallizing from the salts deposited by the evaporating sea water. These evaporite minerals and the limestone rock that formed from the calcium carbonate are soluble in water—this means that they can serve as aquifers, holding and channeling groundwater below the surface, or they can at least allow passage to flowing water. In certain places in New Mexico, such as at Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, both actions work together to create sinkholes and springs, the basis for many of the region's wetlands. The underlying aquifer is a large limestone deposit, and the water reaches the surface by penetrating the less soluble evaporite overlaying the aquifer, which in the case of Bitter Lake NWR is the mineral gypsum. In this manner, a steady supply of water reaches the surface to create wetlands, sustaining 24 species of fish, 357 species of birds, 59 species of mammals, 5 amphibian and reptile species, and over 100 varieties of dragonflies and damselflies at Bitter Lake alone!
To help ensure the continued health of these spaces, it's important to maintain the aquifers that supply them. To learn more about how aquifers are used and how to protect them, check out this interactive animation from the Environmental Protection Agency!
(Sources: Land, L., & Huff, G. F. (2010). Multi-tracer investigation of groundwater residence time in a karstic aquifer: Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico (Open-file Report 521). Socorro, NM: New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources, New Mexico Tech. Retrieved from http://geoinfo.nmt.edu/publications/openfile/downloads/OFR500-599/500-5…; NPS “Geology Fieldnotes: White Sands National Monument, New Mexico” http://www.nature.nps.gov/geology/parks/whsa/index.cfm; Smith, T. M., & Smith, R. L. (2009). Coastal and Wetland Ecosystems. In B. Wilbur (Ed.), Elements of Ecology (6th ed., pp. 547). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings; University of New Mexico “Geologic History of New Mexico” http://www.unm.edu/~natsci/NM_history.htm; USFWS “Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge: History” http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Bitter_Lake/About/History.html; USFWS “Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge: Wildlife & Habitat” http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Bitter_Lake/wildlife_and_habitat.html; USFWS “Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge: Wildlife and Habitat” http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Bosque_del_Apache/wildlife_and_habitat/index…)
New York is home to thousands of acres of wetlands! Bottomland hardwood forests with red and silver maple grow alongside rivers and streams, absorbing floodwaters and providing habitat for wood ducks and cerulean warblers. Freshwater marshes with shorter, greener vegetation emerging through their shallow waters offer food and shelter to black tern, bald eagle, muskrats, and minks, while acting as a filter for excess sediment and nutrients in the water cycle. Both of these wetland types are important stopover points for migratory waterfowl traveling the Atlantic Flyway looking for a good place to rest and feed en route to Canada.
One of the state's more uncommon wetlands is the back-barrier salt marsh, a type of saline tidal marsh that forms in the protected embayments between the barrier islands and the coast. Primarily seen off the coast of Long Island, these wetlands experience a wide range in salinity and water levels as the tides move in and out of the barrier island inlets. These dynamic conditions allow the tidal marshes to support a wide range of species, so they are an important habitat area for wintering waterfowl populations as well as key protection for juvenile fish.
To learn more about New York's wetlands, check out these sites:
- Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge
- Conscience Point National Wildlife Refuge
- Lido Beach Waterfowl Production Area
- Oyster Bay National Wildlife Refuge
(Sources: New York Department of Environmental Conservation “Tidal Wetlands” http://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/4940.html; Smith, T. M., & Smith, R. L. (2009). Coastal and Wetland Ecosystems. In B. Wilbur (Ed.), Elements of Ecology (6th ed., pp. 547). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings; Tiner, R. W. (2011). Wetlands and Deepwater Habitats of Long Island, New York: Status 2004—Results of the National Wetlands Inventory. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Northeast Region, Hadley, M. Retrieved from: http://www.fws.gov/northeast/ecologicalservices/pdf/wetlandsdeepwaterha…; USFWS “Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge: Wildlife & Habitat” http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Iroquois/wildlife_and_habitat/index.htm; USFWS “Oyster Bay National Wildlife Refuge: Wildlife & Habitat” http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Oyster_Bay/wildlife_and_habitat/index.html)
About 14% of North Carolina is covered in wetlands! Bottom hardwood forests and cypress-tupelo sloughs border rivers and streams; pocosins are found in the upper reaches of the landscape; and marshes and wet flats fill the inland lowlands and the coastal embayments behind the Outer Banks. Each of these wetlands carry out important functions that benefit the region's safety, economy, and infrastructure! For instance, stormwater runoff is a major contributor to water quality problems in North Carolina, and wooded wetlands situated along headwaters are the most important filters of agricultural runoff in the coastal region. Without passing through these wetlands, the runoff would be overloaded with sediment, nutrients, and pollutants which could pose a threat to the fish and shellfish (particularly blue crabs and shrimp) which live just offshore and are vital to commercial and sports fisheries. The pocosin wetlands (the majority of which are found in North Carolina) can store enormous amounts of water during storm events, slowing runoff into estuaries and reducing potential flood damage to neighboring communities. In addition to protecting your home, the wetlands are also valuable wildlife real estate—70% of North Carolina's endangered and threatened species rely on wetlands for at least part of their life cycle, as do many common species of waterfowl, fish, birds, mammals, and amphibians.
The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources has some great information on North Carolina's wetlands, and you can check out these sites below to learn more about specific wetlands within North Carolina.
- Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge
- Mackay Island National Wildlife Refuge
- Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge
- Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge
- Roanoke River National Wildlife Refuge
(Sources: North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources “Wetlands: Their Funcations and Values in Coastal North Carolina” http://dcm2.enr.state.nc.us/wetlands/brochure.htm; Smith, T. M., & Smith, R. L. (2009). Coastal and Wetland Ecosystems. In B. Wilbur (Ed.), Elements of Ecology (6th ed., pp. 547). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings; US Department of the Interior “Chapter 16: North Carolina—The Pocosins and Other Freshwater Wetlands” http://www.doi.gov/pmb/oepc/wetlands2/v2ch16.cf)
North Dakota is in one of the most important wetland areas in the world—the Prairie Pothole Region. The area's namesake pothole depressions were carved out of the landscape during the last ice age as the Wisconsinan glacier advanced and retreated across the northern portion of North America, leaving behind a 300,000 square mile swath of pockmarked terrain that spans North and South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, and parts of Canada. Some of these pothole indentations were cut so deeply into the rock and soil that they now reach the underlying water table, keeping the depressions saturated with groundwater. Other potholes are shallower and receive their moisture from rain and snowmelt, making their saturation levels more reliant on the area's weather patterns. These shallower depressions warm much faster than their deeper counterparts, making them a desirable habitat for aquatic insects, a major food supply for the migratory bird populations travelling the Central Flyway overhead. Altogether, this region produces two-thirds of the 10-12 million waterfowl of the continental United States, making it the most productive wetlands habitat for waterfowl in North America. In fact, North Dakota alone produces more ducks than any other state in the Prairie Pothole Region, or anywhere else in the continental United States!
To learn more about the wetlands of North Dakota, check out this great resource from the North Dakota Game and Fish Department and the North Dakota Center for Distance Education.
(Sources: Herman, G. & Laverne, J. (2008). Habitats of North Dakota: Wetlands. Fargo, ND: North Dakota Center for Distance Education. Smith, T. M., & Smith, R. L. (2009). Coastal and Wetland Ecosystems. In B. Wilbur (Ed.), Elements of Ecology (6th ed., pp. 547). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings; USGS “Wetlands of North Dakota” http://nd.water.usgs.gov/wetlands/)
Would you have guessed that over 400,000 acres of wetlands exist in Ohio? That may seem like a lot, but in pre-settlement times there were over 5,000,000 acres! Ohio's wetlands—including swamps, wet prairies, vernal pools, bogs, and fens—provide important feeding, breeding, and resting grounds for wildlife. Shorebirds from as far away as Argentina, Brazil, and Chile come to Ohio wetlands as a resting point in their migration. The wetlands also provide habitat for unique plants like the carnivorous northern pitcher plant and sundew. Want to see these wetlands in person and learn more about them? Here are a few parks and refuges you can visit:
- Cuyahoga Valley National Park contains over 1,500 wetlands.
- Cedar Point National Wildlife Refuge is a globally important bird area according to the National Audubon Society. The largest contiguous coastal marsh wetland on Lake Erie is found here.
- Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge provides high quality food and cover for migrating waterfowl, shorebirds, wading birds, and wetland-dependent wildlife. Permanent and semi-permanent wetlands are found here.
(Sources: Smith, T. M., & Smith, R. L. (2009). Coastal and Wetland Ecosystems. In B. Wilbur (Ed.), Elements of Ecology (6th ed., pp. 547). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings; National Park Service, “Cuyahoga Valley National Park,” http://www.nps.gov/cuva/index.htm; Audubon Adventures Ohio Series, “Ohio's Wetland Wonderlands,” http://epa.ohio.gov/Portals/42/documents/AA%20wetlands%201%20fixed.pdf; Environmental Law Institute, “State Wetland Protection: Status, Trends, & Model Approaches. Appendix: State Profiles. Ohio,” http://www.eli.org/sites/default/files/docs/core_states/Ohio.pdf; USFWS, “Cedar Point National Wildlife Refuge,” http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Cedar_Point/; USFWS, “Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge,” http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Ottawa/; National Audubon Society, “Important Bird Areas Program,” http://web4.audubon.org/bird/iba/)
Oklahoma is home to a variety of wetlands—riverside wetlands in the central and western parts of the state; bogs and marshes in the southeast; oxbow lakes across much of the state; playa lakes in the high plains of the panhandle; forested wetlands in the eastern third; and closed depressions throughout the state where soil deposited by wind or water has blocked drainage patterns. A geometrically unique type of wetland found in Oklahoma is the oxbow lake. These lakes were once part of a winding river channel that was cut off due to erosion and deposits of soil over time, leaving behind a “U” or crescent shape. Oklahoma's oxbow lakes are no more than seven feet deep and are seldom dry. Here are some oxbow lakes you can find in Oklahoma:
- Okmulgee Wildlife Management Area is located in eastern Oklahoma, a few miles northwest of Okmulgee.
- Deep Fork National Wildlife Refuge is located in east-central Oklahoma. This refuge features lush hardwood forests surrounding oxbow lakes.
(Sources: Smith, T. M., & Smith, R. L. (2009). Coastal and Wetland Ecosystems. In B. Wilbur (Ed.), Elements of Ecology (6th ed., pp. 547). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings; Environmental Law Institute, “State Wetland Protection: Status, Trends, & Model Approaches. Appendix: State Profiles. Oklahoma,” http://www.eli.org/sites/default/files/docs/core_states/Oklahoma.pdf; Oklahoma Conservation Commission, “The Oklahoma Wetlands Reference Guide,” http://www.ok.gov/conservation/documents/OK_Wetlands_Reference_Guide.pdf; Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, “Okmulgee Wildlife Management Area,” http://www.wildlifedepartment.com/facts_maps/wma/okmulgee.htm; USFWS, “Deep Fork National Wildlife Refuge,” http://www.fws.gov/refuge/deep_fork/)
Oregon has a whopping 1.4 million acres of wetlands scattered across the state. That's about the size of TWO Rhode Islands! Oregon's wetlands are as varied as the state's landscape, ranging from tidal salt marshes along the coast to mossy mountain fens and seasonal prairie wetlands. Seasonal wetlands become dry during the summer and can be hard to identify. Oregon's wetlands provide many environmental benefits, including controlling floodwater, storing water, and providing wildlife habitat. Want to visit some wetlands in Oregon? Here are some to check out:
- Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge covers 40,000 acres and includes the largest freshwater marsh in the Pacific Northwest.
- Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge is home to habitats that include emergent, shrub and forested wetlands, riparian forests, pine meadows and more. This refuge is located just outside Portland.
(Sources: Smith, T. M., & Smith, R. L. (2009). Coastal and Wetland Ecosystems. In B. Wilbur (Ed.), Elements of Ecology (6th ed., pp. 547). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings; EPA, “Oregon Wetlands Program Plan,” http://water.epa.gov/type/wetlands/upload/or_wpp.pdf; Oregon Department of State Lands, “Wetlands in Oregon,” http://www.oregon.gov/dsl/WETLAND/docs/wetlands_fact_sheet_december2012…; Oregon Department of State Lands, http://www.oregon.gov/DSL/Pages/index.aspx; USFWS, “Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge,” http://www.fws.gov/tualatinriver/)
Despite losing a significant amount of wetlands over the last century, Pennsylvania has actually seen a net annual gain since the 1980s. Today, Pennsylvania contains over 400,000 acres of wetlands. More than 50% of these wetlands lie within the northeastern and northwestern counties. Marshes, meadows and shrub swamps comprise 10-20% of the state's wetlands. Wetlands are valuable natural areas and places for recreation and education. Animals use wetland areas for nesting, spawning, breeding and resting. Wetlands also help filter pollutants from stormwater and reduce flooding. What better way to learn more about these wonderful lands than visiting them in person? Check out a few National Wildlife Refuges below:
- Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge is a 30,000 acre area located in eastern Pennsylvania. Bog turtles, opossum, and migratory birds can be in the refuge and you can see a number of different wetlands here, including vernal pools.
- Erie National Wildlife Refuge is located in northwestern Pennsylvania. This refuge contains over 5,700 acres of wetlands, including marshes, swamps, and beaver-induced wetlands. Some species that call these habitats home are mussels, raptors, wood duck, blue-winged teals, and mallards.
(Sources: Smith, T. M., & Smith, R. L. (2009). Coastal and Wetland Ecosystems. In B. Wilbur (Ed.), Elements of Ecology (6th ed., pp. 547). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings; Environmental Law Institute, “State Wetland Protection: Status, Trends, & Model Approaches. Appendix: State Profiles. Pennsylvania, http://www.eli.org/sites/default/files/docs/core_states/Pennsylvania.pdf; Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection, “An Introduction to Wetlands,” http://www.buckinghampa.org/media/4336/wetlans-fact-sheet.pdf; USFWS, “Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge,” http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Cherry_Valley/; USFWS, “Erie National Wildlife Refuge,” http://www.fws.gov/refuge/erie/; Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program, “Palustrine Community Descriptions,” http://www.naturalheritage.state.pa.us/wetlands.aspx)
Yes, Rhode Island is the smallest state, but it still showcases a large area of wetlands. Over 18 percent of the state's area is wetland and deepwater habitat. That's over 127,000 acres of fens, bogs, salt marshes, swamps and more! One area of uniqueness is the Rhode Island coastline, where salt marshes are found. They can be found in along the Narragansett Bay estuary, small embayments and estuarine rivers. These marshes are important to many species including striped bass, oysters, fiddler crabs and mussels that use the wetlands as nursery grounds and foraging habitat. Many birds come here to feed on fish and invertebrates, including osprey and heron. Learn more about Rhode Island's wetlands and take a visit to the state's national wildlife refuges to see them in person!
(Sources: Smith, T. M., & Smith, R. L. (2009). Coastal and Wetland Ecosystems. In B. Wilbur (Ed.), Elements of Ecology (6th ed., pp. 547). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings; Environmental Law Institute, “State Wetland Protection: Status, Trends, & Model Approaches. Appendix: State Profiles. Rhode Island,” http://www.eli.org/sites/default/files/docs/core_states/Rhode_Island.pdf; Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, “Wetlands in Rhode Island,” http://www.dem.state.ri.us/programs/benviron/water/wetlands/pdfs/wfs01…; University of Rhode Island, “Restoring Coastal Habitats for Rhode Island's Future,” http://www.edc.uri.edu/restoration/html/intro/salt.htm; USFWS, “Rhode Island National Wildlife Refuges,” http://www.fws.gov/refuges/refugeLocatorMaps/RhodeIsland.html; Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, “Rhode Island Wetlands,” http://www.dem.state.ri.us/programs/benviron/water/wetlands/index.htm)
South Carolina, the “Palmetto State,” is home to about 4.5 million acres of wetlands including Carolina bays, pocosins, bogs, seeps, bottomland hardwoods, savannahs, swamp forests, and more! These wetlands take up 23% of South Carolina's land area; 90% of the wetlands are freshwater and 10% are coastal. South Carolina's bottomland hardwoods are found along rivers and streams, generally in broad floodplains. They have many beneficial functions, including reducing risk and severity of flooding to downstream communities, and providing breeding habitats to dozens of bird species. According to Audubon South Carolina, 10-24% of the global population of four bird species breed in South Carolina: Prothonotary Warbler (24.4%), Yellow-throated Warbler (20%), Northern Parula Warbler (11.5%) and Yellow-throated Vireo (10.4%). All of these birds feature yellow feathers, with the most yellow appearing on the Prothonotary Warbler.
Visit some of South Carolina's managed wetlands to catch a glimpse of these spectacular yellow birds and to see the diversity of wetlands the state has to offer!
(Sources: Smith, T. M., & Smith, R. L. (2009). Coastal and Wetland Ecosystems. In B. Wilbur (Ed.), Elements of Ecology (6th ed., pp. 547). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings; Environmental Law Institute, “State Wetland Protection: Status, Trends, & Model Approaches. Appendix: State Profiles. South Carolina,” http://www.eli.org/sites/default/files/docs/core_states/South_Carolina…; South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, “Wetlands,” http://www.dnr.sc.gov/wildlife/wetlands/; EPA, “Bottomland Hardwoods,” http://water.epa.gov/type/wetlands/bottomland.cfm; Audubon South Carolina, “Responsibility Bird Species of South Carolina,” http://sc.audubon.org/sites/default/files/documents/bird-friendly_botto…)
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear South Dakota mentioned? Mount Rushmore? Well, it should be wetlands! In total, wetlands cover about 1.8 million acres of land in the state. One type of wetland in particular that occurs in the eastern half of South Dakota is the prairie pothole. Prairie potholes are depressional wetlands found in much of the Upper Midwest, which were formed by glaciers and fill with snowmelt and rain in the spring. Some are temporary, while others may be essentially permanent. In South Dakota, there can sometimes be more than 100 prairie potholes in just one square mile! These wetlands are home to North American migratory waterfowl and over 100 fish, 25 mammal, 17 amphibian, and 10 reptile species, including muskrats, red foxes, tiger salamanders and cricket frogs. Take some time to catch a glimpse of these wetlands and species in person by visiting:
- Waubay National Wildlife Refuge, where over 245 species of birds have been observed.
- Madison Wetland Management District, home to Silver Lake (actually a marsh), that is referred to in Laura Ingalls Wilder's book “By the Shores of Silver Lake.”
(Sources: Smith, T. M., & Smith, R. L. (2009). Coastal and Wetland Ecosystems. In B. Wilbur (Ed.), Elements of Ecology (6th ed., pp. 547). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings; Environmental Law Institute, “State Wetland Protection: Status, Trends, & Model Approaches. Appendix: State Profiles. South Dakota,” http://www.eli.org/sites/default/files/docs/core_states/South_Dakota.pdf; USGS, “Eastern South Dakota Wetlands,” http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/resource/wetlands/eastwet/; USFWS, “Special Places to Visit Within the Madison Wetlands Management District,” http://www.fws.gov/madisonwetlands/special_places.htm; USFWS, “Waubay National Wildlife Refuge,” http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Waubay/; EPA, “Prairie Potholes,” http://water.epa.gov/type/wetlands/potholes.cfm)
Tennessee's landscape is full of valleys, flat lands, mountains, rivers, and more! Among the state's diverse landscape are 787,000 acres of wetlands, including hardwood forests, upland swamps, beaver ponds, and wet meadows and marshes. Despite the Appalachian Mountains running through the eastern parts of Tennessee, there are still wetlands that exist there, known as mountain bogs. Mountain bogs are swampy areas with layers of waterlogged peat and mud covered with thick moss and other vegetation. They can be located at high elevations such as Shady Valley â€“ this South Appalachia wetland can be found in far northeastern Tennessee and is a broad, flat bowl of green fields. Shady Valley supports at least 26 rare plants and animals and is one of two places in the state where cranberries grow. The bog turtle, a federally listed threatened species, also calls this wetland home.
Visit seven National Wildlife Refuges in Tennessee to see more wetlands and wildlife.
(Sources: Smith, T. M., & Smith, R. L. (2009). Coastal and Wetland Ecosystems. In B. Wilbur (Ed.), Elements of Ecology (6th ed., pp. 547). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings; Environmental Law Institute, “State Wetland Protection: Status, Trends, & Model Approaches. Appendix: State Profiles. Tennessee,” http://www.eli.org/sites/default/files/docs/core_states/Tennessee.pdf; Association of State Wetland Managers, “Tennessee,” http://www.aswm.org/swp/tennessee.pdf; Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, “Tennessee's Watchable Wildlife,” http://www.tnwatchablewildlife.org/details2.cfm?sort=aounumber&uid=1106…; USFWS, “Tennessee's Mountain Bogs,” http://www.fws.gov/asheville/pdfs/TNbogs.pdf; The Nature Conservancy, “Tennessee Shady Valley,” http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/…; USFWS, “Refuges Listed by State: Tennesee,” https://www.fws.gov/refuges/profiles/ByState.cfm?state=TN)
With Texas being the second largest state (in area) in the United States, you might think that it contains many different kinds of wetlands. Well, you would be right! In fact, you can break up the state into six wetland regions: playa lakes in the northwest panhandle, trans-peco springs and riparian wetlands in the west, riparian and spring-fed wetlands in the central parts, bottomland hardwoods in the upper northeast, coastal marshes and prairie depressions in the southeast, and South Texas resacas and depressions in the south. What are resacas? They are marshes and ponds that were filled in with silt and water after being cut off from the Rio Grande River. These types of wetlands are ephemeral, meaning they are seasonally dependent on the amount of water they receive. Overall, over 5 million migrating waterfowl depend on Texas wetlands for food, shelter, and nesting grounds.
(Sources: Smith, T. M., & Smith, R. L. (2009). Coastal and Wetland Ecosystems. In B. Wilbur (Ed.), Elements of Ecology (6th ed., pp. 547). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings; Texas Parks and Wildlife, “Texas Treasures: Wetlands,” http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/publications/pwdpubs/media/pwd_bk_k0700_090…; USFWS, “Refuge List by State: Texas,” https://www.fws.gov/refuges/profiles/ByState.cfm?state=TX)
In Utah, a good place to find wetlands, or small pools, is in Arches National Park. Though the park's namesake geological features are associated with a dry, arid environment, the park is sometimes home to ephemeral pools! Called potholes, these wetlands form in the spring when precipitation collects in depressions in the sandstone bedrock. The often shallow depths of these depressions coupled with the sporadic nature of precipitation in the desert can lead to the pools' evaporation, making them an ephemeral wetland. For this reason, the potholes cannot sustain fish and insect life that would require permanent waters, eliminating many predators for the smaller invertebrates that call these pools home. Without a large predator population exerting pressure on the pothole species, these niche organisms have had very little need to evolve over time. As such, animals living in these potholes are very similar to their Mesozoic Era ancestors, leading to the potholes' nickname of “Mesozoic lifeboat niches.”
(Sources: Smith, T. M., & Smith, R. L. (2009). Coastal and Wetland Ecosystems. In B. Wilbur (Ed.), Elements of Ecology (6th ed., pp. 547). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings; Utah Geological Survey “What are â€˜potholes' and how are organisms able to live in them?” http://geology.utah.gov/surveynotes/gladasked/gladpotholes.htm; USGS “Climate change and ephemeral pool ecosystems: Potholes and vernal pools as potential indicator systems” http://geochange.er.usgs.gov/sw/impacts/biology/vernal/; NPS “Arches National Park: Ephemeral Pools” http://www.nps.gov/arch/naturescience/pools.htm)
You can find as many as 14 different types of wetlands in the state of Vermont. Included on this list are upland shores, hardwood forests, hardwood swamps, vernal pools, and open peatlands. Despite wetlands only covering 5% of Vermont, they still provide many benefits. They provide habitat for fish and wildlife, help control erosion, protect water quality, and provide recreational opportunities. Do you think you have a wetland on your property, but aren't sure how to identify one? Follow these steps to help you out:
- Review maps. Visit the Vermont Significant Wetland Inventory Map (VSMI) or the National Wetland Inventory Map to see if wetlands are identified on or near your property.
- Look for wetland indicators. Is there water present? Are wetland plants present? What kind of soil is there?
- Does the area fall within wetland regulations? Revisit the wetland indicators link above to review the Vermont Wetland Rules.
- Ask yourself: Is it too wet to mow over the land? Do you think you would sink when driving heavy equipment? Is the vegetation different than surrounding areas? Do you hear frogs in the spring? Answering yes to any of these questions may indicate that you have a wetland!
(Sources: Smith, T. M., & Smith, R. L. (2009). Coastal and Wetland Ecosystems. In B. Wilbur (Ed.), Elements of Ecology (6th ed., pp. 547). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings; Environmental Law Institute, “State Wetland Protection: Status, Trends, & Model Approaches. Appendix: State Profiles. Vermont,” http://www.eli.org/sites/default/files/docs/core_states/Vermont.pdf; Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, “A Guide to the Natural Communities of Vermont: Part Four â€“ Uplands, Wetlands,” http://www.vtfishandwildlife.com/books/Wetland,Woodland,Wildland/___76_…; Vermont Watershed Management Division, “Vermont Significant Wetland Inventory Maps,” http://www.vtwaterquality.org/wetlands/htm/wl_vermontsigwetinvmaps.htm; USFWS, “National Wetlands Inventory Wetlands Mapper,” http://www.fws.gov/wetlands/Data/Mapper.html; Vermont Watershed Management Division, “Landowner's Guide to Wetlands,” http://www.watershedmanagement.vt.gov/wetlands/docs/wl_Am_I_in_a_Wetlan…)
Wetlands make up about 4.5% of Virginia's total land area, or about 1.2 million acres. More than 750,000 acres of that area are non-tidal wetlands, meaning they do not fluctuate with the tides of the ocean, and over 180,000 acres of isolated wetlands exist in Virginia. Isolated wetlands lack an obvious connection to surface water and are fed by groundwater and rainfall. They perform the same functions as other wetlands, such as recharging streams, storing flood waters, filtering pollutants from water and providing wildlife habitat. Their isolated existence supports unique and often rare plants and animals, which only occur in these unique habitats. Some examples of isolated wetlands located in Virginia include:
- Grafton Ponds in Eastern Virginia, which can be found in Grafton Ponds Natural Area Preserve. Rare species such as Mabee's salamanders and barking treefrogs call this habitat home.
- Shenandoah Valley is home to karst depressional, or sinkhole, wetlands. The decomposition of underlying minerals forms these unique areas, which intersect with groundwater. Visit them in Augusta, Page, and Rockingham counties.
(Sources: Smith, T. M., & Smith, R. L. (2009). Coastal and Wetland Ecosystems. In B. Wilbur (Ed.), Elements of Ecology (6th ed., pp. 547). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings; Environmental Law Institute, “State Wetland Protection: Status, Trends, & Model Approaches. Appendix: State Profiles. Virginia,” http://www.eli.org/sites/default/files/docs/core_states/Virginia.pdf; Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, “Wetlands in Virginia,” http://www.deq.state.va.us/Portals/0/DEQ/Water/WetlandsStreams/GetTheFa…; Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, “Restoring Virginia's Wetlands: A Citizen's Toolkit,” http://www.deq.virginia.gov/Portals/0/DEQ/Water/WetlandsStreams/restori…; Virginia Department of Conservation & Recreaton, “Grafton Ponds Natural Area Preserve,” http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/natural_heritage/natural_area_preserves/gra…; Virginia is for Lovers, “Shenandoah Valley,” http://www.virginia.org/regions/ShenandoahValley/)
Over 935,000 acres of wetlands exist within the Washington, ranging from forested wetlands, shrub wetlands, marshes, and swamps, just to name a few. They can be found in Mount Rainier National Park, Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, and North Cascades National Park Complex. Did you know that certain wetlands in the state of Washington are dependent on beavers? Many of the wetlands in North Cascades National Park Complex are maintained by beaver dams. The water turns to standing water and feeds nutrients back into the ground for future forest generations. It is a give and take relationship. The wetlands count on beavers and the beavers count on the wetlands. Wetlands show us how interconnected nature can be. Visit these refuges and natural areas throughout Washington to see wetlands first hand and to learn more about them!
(Sources: Smith, T. M., & Smith, R. L. (2009). Coastal and Wetland Ecosystems. In B. Wilbur (Ed.), Elements of Ecology (6th ed., pp. 547). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings; State of Washington's Department of Ecology, “Wetlands: Nature's Sponges, Nurseries and Water Filters,” http://www.ecy.wa.gov/Programs/sea/wetlands/index.html; USGS, “Washington's Wetland Resources,” http://wa.water.usgs.gov/pubs/misc/wetlands/; USFWS, “Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge,” http://www.fws.gov/refuge/nisqually/; National Park Service, “Mount Rainier National Park,” http://www.nps.gov/mora/naturescience/waterquality.htm; National Park Service, “North Cascades National Park Complex,” http://www.nps.gov/noca/naturescience/wetlands.htm; USFWS, “Refuge List by State: Washington,” http://www.fws.gov/refuges/profiles/ByState.cfm?state=WA)
West Virginia is home to just over 100,000 acres of wetlands, which provide valuable habitat for species such as the snapping turtle, muskrat, blue heron, sedge wren, and wood duck. They also provide flood protection, erosion control, and even serve as pasture for livestock. The types of wetlands found in West Virginia can be broken down into three categories: emergent wetlands, shrub wetlands and forested wetlands. Emergent wetlands, commonly called marshes and wet meadows, consist of grass, sedge and other non-woody vegetation. Shrub wetlands, including swamps and bogs, consist of woody vegetation that is less than 20 feet tall. And finally, forested wetlands, including wooded swamps and bottomland forests, are dominated by trees that grow 20 feet or taller. Take a visit to some unique natural areas in West Virginia to catch a glimpse of these beautiful wetlands in person:
- Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge is located in northeast West Virginia at the tippy-top of the Monongahela National Forest. This was the nation's 500th National Wildlife Refuge and encompasses over 16,000 acres. Its position in the Allegheny Mountains gives it a cool, moist climate and features bogs, shrub swamps and wet meadows.
- New River Gorge National River is a park that covers over 70,000 acres, located in the southern part of West Virginia. Here you can discover small ponds and beaver-influenced wetlands. Within these small ponds you might catch a glimpse of a snapping turtle.
(Sources: Smith, T. M., & Smith, R. L. (2009). Coastal and Wetland Ecosystems. In B. Wilbur (Ed.), Elements of Ecology (6th ed., pp. 547). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings; Environmental Law Institute, “State Wetland Protection: Status, Trends, & Model Approaches. Appendix: State Profiles. West Virginia, http://www.eli.org/sites/default/files/docs/core_states/West_Virginia.p…; USFWS, “West Virginia's Wetlands: Uncommon, Valuable Wildlands,” http://www.fws.gov/wetlands/Documents/West-Virginias-Wetlands-Uncommon-…; USFWS, “Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge,” http://www.fws.gov/refuge/canaan_valley/; National Park Service, “Vegetation Classification and Mapping of New River Gorge National River, West Virginia,” http://www.nps.gov/nero/science/FINAL/NERI_veg_map/NERI_veg_map.htm; National Park Service, “New River Gorge National River,” http://www.nps.gov/neri/index.htm)
The amount of wetland acreage in Wisconsin is about the same size as the states of Connecticut and Delaware combined! That's about 5.3 million acres of wetlands in the Badger State. So, what types of wetlands make up the Wisconsin landscape? Some of the more prominent types include marshes, sedge or wet meadows, forested, scrub, aquatic beds, and coastal wetlands. These are all characterized by soil type, vegetation, and degree of water saturation. You can also find fens, seeps, swamps, and peatlands in Wisconsin. Peatlands are areas with or without vegetation that have an accumulated peat layer â€“ a layer of partially decomposed plant material that has accumulated over time. They can be some of the most and least productive ecosystems in the world. However, they serve the same functions as other wetlands, including reducing flooding. Want to visit some wetlands in Wisconsin, but don't know where to begin? Check out these National Wildlife Refuges:
- Fox River National Wildlife Refuge is located along Fox River in Marquette County and encompasses over 1,000 acres of wetland and upland habitat. Dominant wetlands include sedge meadows, wet prairies and shallow marshes.
- Whittlesey Creek National Wildlife Refuge is located in northern Wisconsin along Lake Superior. Coastal wetlands exist here and are influenced by wave action and ice movement, as well as sediments being dumped by Whittlesey and Little Whittlesey Creeks.
(Sources: Smith, T. M., & Smith, R. L. (2009). Coastal and Wetland Ecosystems. In B. Wilbur (Ed.), Elements of Ecology (6th ed., pp. 547). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings; Environmental Law Institute, “State Wetland Protection: Status, Trends, & Model Approaches. Appendix: State Profiles. Wisconsin, http://www.eli.org/sites/default/files/docs/core_states/Wisconsin.pdf; USFWS, “Fox River National Wildlife Refuge,” http://www.fws.gov/refuge/fox_river/; USFWS, “Whittlesey Creek National Wildlife Refuge,” http://www.fws.gov/refuge/whittlesey_creek/; Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, “Wetland Types,” http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/wetlands/types.html; Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, “Wetland communities of Wisconsin,” http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/EndangeredResources/Communities.asp?mode=group&…; International Peat Societ, “Peatlands and Peat,” http://www.peatsociety.org/peatlands-and-peat)
In Wyoming, there are over 960,000 acres of palustrine wetlands â€“ inland wetlands without flowing water. These include nontidal wetlands dominated by trees, shrubs, and mosses. Ninety percent of Wyoming's wildlife species are dependent on or associated with wetlands, including snowy egrets, western painted turtles, boreal toads, and big brown bats. About 67% of the total wetlands in Wyoming are temporary, meaning they are seasonally filled with water from snowmelt or rainfall. Wetlands provide a great opportunity to get outside and experience nature. Visit these National Wildlife Refuges to check out wetlands in person:
- Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge, located in southwest Wyoming is a 27,230 acre refuge consisting of riparian, wetland and upland shrub habitats that are vital to more than 250 species of resident and migrant wildlife.
- Bamforth National Wildlife Refuge, located just outside of the city of Laramie, is 1,166 acre refuge with marshes and wetland areas around small ponds and Bamforth Lake. American white pelicans, California gulls, and snowy egrets, among others, use this area during migration.
(Sources: Smith, T. M., & Smith, R. L. (2009). Coastal and Wetland Ecosystems. In B. Wilbur (Ed.), Elements of Ecology (6th ed., pp. 547). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings; Wyoming Game and Fish Department, “Wyoming Wetlands Conservation Strategy,” http://wgfd.wyo.gov/wtest/Departments/Wildlife/pdfs/HABITAT_WYWETLANDSC…; The Nature Conservancy, “Wyoming Wetlands,” http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/…; Wyoming Game and Fish Department, “Wetlands,” http://wgfd.wyo.gov/wtest/Departments/Wildlife/pdfs/SWAP_TH_WETLANDS000…; USFWS, “Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge,” http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Seedskadee/; USFWS, “Bamforth National Wildlife Refuge,” http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Bamforth/)