Wetlands are one of those biomes that seem to get a lot less coverage than many other types of natural habitats.
Many people can’t wait to hear more about the biodiversity of the world’s tropical and temperate rainforests, the unbearable cold and wind of the North and South Poles, the unrelenting heat of the world’s deserts, the incredible and majestic wildlife of Savannah across the world, or even just the rustic feel of the plains and woodlands on every continent.
But wetlands? They very rarely get the same star-studded treatment.
They’re often characterized as stagnant, disease-ridden bogs that contribute little to nothing in the natural world.
Yet this view is not just harsh. It’s just plain wrong.
Wetlands cover approximately 20% of the total land surface area of our planet, and they are the home of so many different species of plants and animals.
So they are important to some aspect of our planet’s health. We just need to understand what.
And we need to come to this understanding sooner, rather than later.
If plans by an organization or institution to try and drain a wetland are passed in a local area, then something critical to the survival of not just organisms in nature is lost, but also something that protected ourselves is gone too.
That is why it is important to understand and appreciate the importance of this unique habitat.
And this is why we are going to explain some essential things that these habitats do for both the natural world and for us humans.
What Are Wetlands?
Firstly, we should establish what exactly a wetland is. Many people will often confuse flooded plains or woodlands with the wetland biome.
And whilst there are some overlaps between them and other biomes, wetlands are fundamentally different from other types of environments in the natural world.
Generally speaking, wetlands are low-lying areas of land where water is either very close to the soil, or where water covers the soil for at least a portion of the year, especially at times of the year when plant growth most takes place.
This is the primary factor that separates them from habitats that have simply flooded.
Whilst high water levels are not normal in places such as plains and woodlands outside areas where rivers and streams flow, water that often rises above where the soil usually sits is the defining feature of wetlands.
How those high water levels affect how the soil rests in these conditions.
There are three main categories of wetlands: coastal wetlands, freshwater wetlands, and saline wetlands.
Although each type of wetland has its distinct characteristics, they all share common traits.
These include being covered with vegetation, having a relatively high concentration of organic matter, and generally being located near large bodies of water.
How They Form
This is where the discussion of the overlap between wetlands and other biomes comes into play.
Whilst these are generally separate biomes, a different biome can transition into fully-fledged wetlands, and vice versa.
The process of forming wetlands is similar across all three types. However, there are differences in the way that the wetland forms itself.
This kind of wetland is formed due to wave action and tidal currents. This creates sedimentation, which accumulates around the coast.
As this occurs over time, more and more land is created until eventually, the coastline becomes a marshy area.
These wetlands can be found around lakes and ponds, and they can be fed by both rainwater runoff, as well as from rivers or streams breaking their banks regularly enough for the surrounding area to adapt to the change in conditions.
What once was a forest with very little muddy vegetation can become a prime piece of wetland real estate in a few years.
Likewise, if a river or the banks of a lake start to recede, then the wetlands will disappear with them.
This type of wetland occurs in areas that experience saltwater intrusion, typically through groundwater seepage.
The salinity level of the water must be greater than 0.5% before the formation of a brackish estuary begins.
As you can see, it doesn’t take much for one environment to become another. This makes wetlands a very dynamic environment for life to grow in
Why Are Wetlands Important?
So, we’ve covered what exactly a wetland is. Now, we’re going to cover why exactly wetlands must be allowed to exist without human interference or demolition.
Despite their image in the public eye as being empty of anything except for infectious diseases and stagnant water, wetlands are one of the most ecologically diverse and productive environments on the planet.
They are teeming with biodiversity from pretty much every corner of the family tree of life that lives on Earth right now.
Wetlands provide many benefits to animals and plants alike, including breeding grounds, food sources, protection from predators, and even habitat for endangered species.
Many people think of wildlife as being something exotic, something that only happens far away from home.
But in fact, wildlife is everywhere. It just takes some effort to find it.
It’s no wonder that so many people want to protect wetlands and make sure that they exist forever.
This might seem a little contradictory at first. After all, wetlands are already flooded, so how can they help stop further flooding from happening?
But it’s precisely because they are already flooded which means that they are adapted to combating extreme and sudden changes in water levels in the lands where they are found.
The soil that is found in wetlands is more absorbent to moisture and water than other types of soil.
This means that, in the event of a local flooding emergency, wetland soil will likely be able to absorb a good chunk of excess floodwater.
And this isn’t even mentioning the vegetation that grows and is adapted to living around water, which will also help reduce the speed at which floodwater spreads from its banks.
Without these natural barriers, flooding that hits an area will likely hit much harder, a lot faster, and take longer to recede than it otherwise would.
As we previously mentioned, wetlands are an environment that is constantly in a state of change.
This makes it visually distinct from many other ecosystems, as it is always changing as factors in the area change with it.
In addition to providing a visual contrast against the surrounding land, wetlands are rich habitats for birds, insects, reptiles, amphibians, fish, mammals, and even humans.
They are often filled with unique plant life, which provides food and shelter for various species.
And when you add in the diversity in the animal world, you have a very vibrant ecosystem that is worth protecting.
Wetlands are also fantastic resources for tourism, both nationally and internationally.
Visitors flock to experience these amazing landscapes, and the money spent helps support the conservation efforts of wetlands across the globe.
Resources We Use
So many resources and products that we take for granted can be found in wetlands. They include freshwater, fuel, wood, minerals, medicines, and materials like paper and textiles.
If these things were not available, our daily lives would be drastically different, if not impossible.
Protecting these areas is essential, especially since they contain so much knowledge and many resources that we and our fellow Earthlings need to live.
As you can see, we’d be lost without wetlands. Without them, our ability to live here and enjoy nature would be greatly diminished.
Wetlands aren’t just useful for our survival; they’re also vital for maintaining healthy ecosystems and biodiversity in general.
We hope that you’ve learned something new today!