Ecology And Environment

The Ecological Importance of Natural Wetlands



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Wetlands are natural ecological systems that serve a variety of valuable functions. They’re vital sources of fresh water and food.  They provide important services, including erosion control and water treatment. Wetlands provide a natural habitat for the interactions between a variety of organisms and the environment. Wetlands provide a number of environmental benefits, including water purification, flood control and shoreline stability.  Wetlands are considered as transition areas (ecotones) between land and water ecological habitats.

Wetlands occupy 6% of the surface land in the world. Wetlands are land regions saturated with static or flowing water, which can be fresh, salt, or brackish water. The abundant quantity of water compels vegetation to adapt to aquatic environment. Wetlands can be of four kinds, including marshes, mangrove swamps, fens and bogs. Ecologically, wetlands provide habitat for a variety of plant and animal life. Wetlands provide breeding grounds for migrating birds, amphibians, reptiles, mammals and fish species. The wetland ecosystem includes a wide variety of vegetation and animal species.

Flora

Wetlands are home to four main types of aquatic water plants (hydrophytes), including surrounding trees and shrubs, and submerged, floating and emergent water plants. Some wetlands can be dominated by silver maple trees. Others have various tree species, including cypress and mangrove. Submerged water plants, including seagrasses and eelgrass, possess flowers that can thrive underwater, while others have developed long stems, allowing flowers to reach the surface. Floating plants, such as duckweed and lily pad, serve as food for bird species. Emergent plants, including cattails and arrow arum, can be seen on the surface of water, although their roots are totally submerged underwater.

Fauna

Wetlands are inhabited by reptilian species, such as alligators and crocodiles. Alligators are most commonly found in fresh water wetlands. Crocodiles are found in mangroves and estuaries. The everglades in Florida are one of the few places in the world where crocodiles and alligators co-exist. Frogs thrive in both terrestrial and aquatic systems. They feed on insects and algae. The platypus is found in fresh water lakes and rivers of Australia. The platypus builds dams and burrows much like the beaver. They feed on insects, larvae and worms. Fish are totally dependent on wetland ecosystems. Every fresh or salt water fish species spends part of its life-cycle on wetlands. Mammals live within the wetland ecosystem mostly for its abundant food sources.

Ecological processes

Wetlands help control ecological processes, including the recycling of mineral nutrients and human waste as they function as natural filters. Wetlands act as natural sponges, trapping excess rainwater within its soil, and decreasing flood heights. The energy produce by strong waves is absorbed by wetlands. Coral reefs serve as a natural barrier to the coastal shoreline against tidal waves and heavy storms. The root systems in wetlands are joined together, forming a strong natural defense against erosion. Mangroves stabilize the effects of these phenomena in the wetlands of inland.

Direct and indirect benefits

Wetlands provide direct and indirect goods and services to people, including fresh water supply, fish, timber and recreation areas for a variety of outdoor activities. The great capacity of wetlands to retain excess flood water during heavy storms helps maintain a constant flow, thus, preserving water quality and increasing biological productivity for both aquatic and human communities. Periodically flooded wetlands are very effective at storing water, maintaining subterranean aquifers fully recharged. This guarantees enough fresh water supply for nearby communities.

Wetlands help sustain a great variety of plant and animal life, thus, maintaining ecological balance within the ecosystem. By interacting in both water and land ecosystems, wetlands become highly productive and biologically rich ecosystems; however, wetlands are also the most endangered ecosystems. According to iucnredlist.org, the source of clean fresh water, food, medicines, as well as the source of subsistence of millions of people around the world may be at risk by the rapid disappearance of many plant, animal, and fungi species.

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ARTICLE SOURCES AND CITATIONS
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrowhttp://water.epa.gov/type/wetlands/index.cfm
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrowhttp://water.epa.gov/type/wetlands/outreach/upload/overview.pdf
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrowhttp://www.iucnredlist.org/news/securing-the-web-of-life