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Wetlands Portal


Freshwater swamp forest in Bangladesh

A wetland is a distinct ecosystem that is inundated by water, either permanently or seasonally, where oxygen-free processes prevail. The primary factor that distinguishes wetlands from other land forms or water bodies is the characteristic vegetation of aquatic plants, adapted to the unique hydric soil. Wetlands play a number of functions, including water purification, water storage, processing of carbon and other nutrients, stabilization of shorelines, and support of plants and animals. Wetlands are also considered the most biologically diverse of all ecosystems, serving as home to a wide range of plant and animal life. Whether any individual wetland performs these functions, and the degree to which it performs them, depends on characteristics of that wetland and the lands and waters near it. Methods for rapidly assessing these functions, wetland ecological health, and general wetland condition have been developed in many regions and have contributed to wetland conservation partly by raising public awareness of the functions and the ecosystem services some wetlands provide.

Wetlands occur naturally on every continent. The main wetland types are swamp, marsh, bog, and fen; sub-types include mangrove forest, carr, pocosin, floodplains, mire, vernal pool, sink, and many others. Many peatlands are wetlands. The water in wetlands is either freshwater, brackish, or saltwater. Wetlands can be tidal (inundated by tides) or non-tidal. The largest wetlands include the Amazon River basin, the West Siberian Plain, the Pantanal in South America, and the Sundarbans in the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta.

The UN Millennium Ecosystem Assessment determined that environmental degradation is more prominent within wetland systems than any other ecosystem on Earth.

Constructed wetlands are used to treat municipal and industrial wastewater as well as stormwater runoff. They may also play a role in water-sensitive urban design.

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Foxtor Mires, Devon, UK
A mire or quagmire, sometimes called a peatland, is a wetland terrain without forest cover dominated by living, peat-forming plants. For botanists and ecologists, the term peatland is a more general term for any terrain dominated by peat to a depth of at least 30 cm (12 in), even if it has been completely drained (i.e., a peatland can be dry, but a mire by definition must be wet).

There are two types of mire – fens and bogs. A bog is a domed-shaped land form, is higher than the surrounding landscape, and obtains most of its water from rainfall (i.e., is ombrotrophic) while a fen is located on a slope, flat, or depression and gets its water from both rainfall and surface water.

Also, while a bog is always acidic and nutrient-poor, a fen may be either slightly acidic, neutral or alkaline and either nutrient-poor or nutrient-rich. A mire is distinguished from a swamp by its lack of a forest canopy (though some bogs may support limited tree or bush growth, mires are dominated by grass and mosses), and from a marsh by its water nutrients and distribution (marshes are characterized by nutrient-rich stagnant or slow-moving waters; mire waters are located mostly below the soil surface level) as well as its plant life (marsh plants are generally submerged or floating-leaved; those in a mire are not).

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Did you know...

that the Wetlands Reserve Program helps landowners protect wetlands on their land?
...that the Wetlands Reserve Program helps landowners protect wetlands on their land?

(Pictured left: Wind powered pump in Shedd, Oregon.)

Other "Did you know" facts...




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