World Wetlands Day (February 2)
February 2, 2019
By Harry Seely, BSc student
What are Wetlands?
On February 2ndevery year we celebrate and acknowledge a hugely important ecosystem on our planet: wetlands. Wetlands represent the bridge between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and permanently or intermittently contain an oversupply of water. Wetlands have been described as “strongholds of biodiversity” and while occupying only a small portion of the earth’s land, they manage to sustain an impressive plethora of flora and fauna. In these ecosystemswe can find many fascinating endemic species such as orangutans, dragonflies and dolphins. Not only do wetlands carry impressive quantities of wildlife, they also provide many key ecosystem services that are highly beneficial to humanity.
Importance of Wetlands:
Wetlands offer a number of ecosystem services that can be highly useful for local communities and the world as a whole. Coastal wetlands such as coral reefs and mangrove forests function as buffers for storm surges and tsunamis, events that are becoming increasingly common due to climate change. Terrestrial wetlands such as peatlands are some of the most effective carbon sinks on the planet, with peatlands storing 30% of all land based carbon (twice as much as all the earth’s forests combined) while only taking up 3% of landcover on earth.
Wetlands Research in BiRN:
Several members of the Biodiversity Resilience Network have done research on wetlands in the past or have current projects investigating wetland ecosystems. Dr. Ryan Prosser specializes in environmental toxicology and has worked on topics such as pharmaceutical contamination of wastewater and the effects of pesticide and herbicide runoff on wetland ecosystems. Dr. Karl Cottenie also researches wetlands with a focus on community ecology and biostatistics. His former research investigated the complexities of fish metacommunities in wetlands surrounding the Great Lakes. More recently, Dr. Cottenie presented his research project surrounding plant and bird diversity in pothole wetlands at last year’s World Wetlands Day Symposium at The University of Waterloo. Another researcher in the Biodiversity Resilience Network who contributes significantly to wetland research is Dr. Merritt Turetsky. Dr. Turetsky is an ecosystem ecologist with research interests centered around biogeochemistry and global change. She has published many articles investigating plant-microbial interactions and nutrient cycling in wetland communities. Dr. Turetsky has also made significant contributions to research surrounding the burning of biomass in peatlands and the subsequent carbon loss from these fires.
Threat to Wetlands:
Wetlands are mosaics of biodiversity and are composed of many metapopulations that are sustained through migration between small, isolated habitats. This type of population structure renders many wetland species susceptible to extinction due to habitat loss. The wildlife present in wetlands is even more threatened since these ecosystems are the most stressed on the planet due to human activity. Since 1970, 35% of wetland habitat worldwidehas been lost due to development and drainage for agriculture. In certain areas such as New Zealand, as much as 90% of wetlands have been removed. This increasing habitat loss poses serious threats for many endemic taxa such as amphibians, which are experiencing decreased migration between habitats resulting in reduced reproduction.
What You Can Do for Wetlands:
For those of us that are not actively researching wetlands or are not involved in their conservation there are still ways in which we can celebrate and protect these valuable ecosystems. There are several wildlife conservation Non-Governmental Organizations which you can support that have ongoing wetland restoration and conservation projects including Wetlands International and The World Wildlife Fund. Additionally, global wetland policy is primarily centralized around an intergovernmental treaty called The Ramsar Convention. This convention promotes the conservation of wetlands through sustainable development and provides guidelines on how to protect key wetland habitats and their biodiversity. The Ramsar Convention is the most important aspect of international wetland policy and supporting it is a fundamental way to help save wetlands.
More Information About Wetlands:
Smardon R. 2014. Wetlands and Sustainability. Water 6:3724-3726.
Clarkson BR, Ausseil AGE, and Gerbeaux P.2013. Wetland ecosystem services. Ecosystem services in New Zealand: conditions and trends:192-202.
Lugo AE, Brown SA, and Brinson MM. Concepts in wetland ecology. Ecosystems of the world. 1990; 15:53-85.