The amazing ecological benefits of wetlands are sometimes overlooked. These areas are submerged or saturated with water and contain plants adapted to survive these damp surroundings. Wetlands provide habitat for a wide variety of plants and animals, including many species-at-risk. They are natural filters that can trap and process harmful substances and bacteria, preventing them from entering other bodies of water. Their ability to store carbon and soak up water means that they help mitigate climate change and floods.
Wetlands are also huge sources of biodiversity. A walk around a wetland usually promises a variety of wild birds, amphibians, rare plants, and many other species for the hobby Naturalist. These spaces are vitally important for many species; as much as one third of all species at risk in North America depend on wetlands.
Wetlands filter harmful chemicals, bacteria and nutrients, preventing them from reaching downstream waterways. Once established, wetlands can be a cost-effective way to intercept agricultural run-off. Excess nitrogen and phosphorous sink into the wetland soil. Once trapped here, plants may take up these nutrients or microbes may break them down. This is just one of many complex, interconnected ways that wetlands filter these substances.
Carbon from the atmosphere is captured by wetland vegetation for photosynthesis. It is then stored in the living plants, as well as the soil and sediment. Research shows that well maintained wetlands have an overall net cooling effect on the planet. Not only that, but the soil and organic matter in wetlands can hold up to seven times its weight in water, reducing the risk and severity of floods. Maintaining healthy wetlands can effectively reduce the financial, social and environmental impacts of flooding.
Sadly, since 1800, around 20 million ha (200, 000 km2) of Canada’s wetlands have been drained, developed or otherwise lost. Further development, as well as other threats like invasive species, are a risk for Canada’s remaining wetlands. These highly important areas need to be protected and restored.
If you want to learn more about the importance and function of wetlands and their link to agriculture, LEPS invites you to register for a free webinar on March 29 at 7pm, Intro to Wetlands. Click here to register and find out more!