What is a wetland? The simple answer is that they are part of the landscape that can be defined by the presence of water. Sounds simple enough, but wetlands are more than just…wet. The water you find in a wetland will influence most if not all life that resides in the area. Water is responsible for the physical, biological and the physical characteristics of the wetland. Wetlands are often the nestled between dryer areas and large bodies of water, they can also be found in depressions where groundwater collects on the surface.
How much water does it take for an area to be a wetland? The amount of water can vary by the season while others are permanently flooded. However a wetland will retain damp and wet soil throughout the year. The area may never suffer from flooding but there is enough water here all year round that the plants and animals have adapted for soil that is predominantly wet. This turns into hydric soil and you get low oxygen conditions that happen with saturation.
The Plants Found in Wetlands
You will find a variety of plants in the wetlands and each of these species have adapted in order to live in the conditions here. The conditions can include the amount of water, the movement of the water and where it is distributed. The plants you find in the wetlands are often referred to as hydrophytes, these are plants that have adapted to grow in saturated soils. The types of plants will influence what birds and insects call the wetlands home. Other species will live here and are completely dependent while others come to wetlands for feeding.
Biologists can easily define a wetland, the characteristics along with the life that you will find there a legal definition took a bit longer. There needed to be a workable definition in order to protect the wetlands and the delicate ecosystems that you find there. Wetlands in the US are protected by state and federal law and come under the jurisdiction of the US Fish and Wildlife Services along with the US Army Corps of Engineers. They have determined for an area to be protected as a wetland it must have the following.
- It must support hydrophytes
- The substrate must by mostly undrained hydric soil
- The land is saturated or covered with water during the growing season.
When we think of wetland we often think of the Everglades in Florida or the Bayou in Louisiana, but there are smaller wetlands all over the country each with its own unique ecosystem. It is important that these wetlands are kept protected there are hundreds of plants and animal species that depend on the wetlands for survival.