Earth Sciences

What is the climate of wetlands?


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Wetlands are any of an array of habitats-including marshes, bogs, swamps, estuaries, and prairie potholes-in which land is saturated or flooded for some part of the growing season. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, wetlands contain water-loving plants (hydrophytes) and hydric soils. They serve many ecological and practical purposes. Wetlands provide habitat and breeding sites for fish, shellfish, birds, and other wildlife; help maintain biological diversity (biodiversity); reduce the effect of floods by diverting and storing floodwaters; provide protection from storm waves and erosion; recharge ground waters; and improve water quality by filtering out sediments, excess nutrients, and many chemical contaminants. Wetlands provide recreational, research, and aesthetic opportunities such as fishing, boating, hunting, and observing and studying wildlife. Since 1780 human activity has destroyed more than half the wetlands of the United States, which now make up only 5 percent of the land surface of the contiguous forty-eight states, or 104 million acres. Nevertheless, they are extremely productive, exceeding even the best agricultural lands and rivaling rain forests in quantity and diversity of plant and animal life. More than half of the saltwater fish and shellfish harvested in the United States-and most of the freshwater sport fish-require wetlands for food, reproduction, or both. At least half of the waterfowl that nest in the contiguous states use the midwestern prairie potholes as breeding grounds. Wetland dependent animals include bald eagles, ospreys, beaver, otter, moose, and the Florida panther.