Functions of a Wetland
- Flood control-wetlands act as sponges by capturing, storing, and slowly releasing water. Wetlands
slowly release water over weeks and months.
- Coastal protection-wetlands act as storm buffers. Roots hold soil in place and stalks reduce the energy
from storm waves and wind.
- Groundwater recharge-wetlands can contribute to groundwater and can recharge aquifers.
- Sediment traps-wetland vegetation can slow water velocity and particles settle out as velocity decreases.
Pesticides, heavy metals, and other potentially harmful residues can settle out. Too
much sediment in water can cause clogged gills in aquatic animals, and fluctuations
in water temperature.
- Waste treatment-wetlands have a high rate of biological production that leads to a large waste consuming
capacity. Also, sediment deposition buries waste and bacterial activity can break
down and neutralize waste.
- Pollution interception-wetland plants can take up and filter some pollutants like nitrogen and phosphorous,
some pollutants settle into the soil and are chemically reduced over time, other pollutants
may be processed by bacteria.
- Biological production-as a whole, wetlands outproduce any other type of environment, even tropical rain
forests. Wetlands cover approximately 6.4% of the earth's surface, but they account
for 24% of total global productivity. Several factors contribute to high biological
production including much of wetland vegetation is made of leafy perennials so photosynthesis
occurs with constant, inexorable efficiency. Dead or dying plants in wetlands feed
populations of larvae, protozoa, bacteria, and fungi. They, in turn, feed fish, worms,
birds, and other life continuing up the food web.
- Habitat-wetlands provide food, shelter, resting places, or predatory opportunities to a variety
- Food-wild rice and cranberries are some wetland crops that can be harvested and consumed
directly. Wetland soils are rich in nutrients, high in organic matter, and generally
less erosive than other soils. Wetlands that have been drained and converted into
agricultural land or wetlands that are under cultivation during dry periods in the
United States provide over 25% of all major crops. Once wetlands are permanently drained
the conditions that created productive soils are lost as well, along with benefits
like recreation, fish habitat, and pollution interception.
- Fuel-peat from wetlands can be harvested, dried and burned for electrical power. Peat mining can have environmental impacts including compromised local water quality,
unchecked storm runoff and habitat destruction.
- Timber and fiber harvest-wetlands have dense stands of vegetation with rapid growth rates which prove beneficial
for wood and fiber industries. Draining and clear-cutting wetlands was the normal
practice until recently. Selective cutting and vigorous replanting practices are become
more common with good results.
- Recreation, aesthetics, and education-Birdwatching, canoeing, fishing, hunting, painting, and hiking are all recreational
activities that can be enjoyed at wetlands.
- Cultural Heritage and Archaeological Evidence-anaerobic conditions (conditions without oxygen) create thick layers of organic materials
that slow down the decomposition process. Artifacts, clothing, and even human remains
are well preserved in these layers. Information about cultures including dietary nuances,
clothing materials, and building styles are available for study at these places.