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Why are wetlands and aquatic habitats important?

Wetlands offer many significant benefits for fish and wildlife as well as society. They provide habitat for thousands of species of aquatic and terrestrial plants and animals. Wetlands are valuable to humans for flood protection, water quality improvement, shoreline erosion control, natural products, recreation, and aesthetics.

Wetlands are among the most productive habitats on earth providing shelter and nursery areas for commercially and recreationally important animals like fish and shellfish, as well as wintering grounds for migrating birds. Coastal marshes are particularly valuable for preventing loss of life and property by moderating extreme floods and buffering the land from storms; they also form natural reservoirs and help maintain desirable water quality.

Wetlands are hydrologically controlled ecosystems essential to estuarine, marine, lacustrine, and riverine productivity. Wetland plants may serve as sensitive hydrologic indicators of water-quality parameters such as salinity, turbidity, pH, nutrients; presence of various pollutants; or frequency and duration of inundation. Submersed aquatic wetlands have many functions including providing habitat for invertebrate species; providing food and (or) shelter for juvenile and adult fish, waterfowl, and other wildlife; retarding flow velocities, stabilizing bottom sediments, and slowing erosion; and oxygenating the water, recycling nutrients and heavy metals.

Aquatic habitats like those along the Gulf of Mexico are vital to seabirds, fish, and shellfish; economically the gulf alone contributes billions to the economy. Riverine deep water - like the Mississippi River and its many channels - is not only essential for navigation, industry, and recreation and therefore responsible for billions of dollars to the economy, but is also invaluable for natural resources. Songbirds and waterfowl use rivers as migratory guides, and rivers and lakes are both essential to countless species of fish, amphibians like frogs and salamanders, and reptiles like turtles, snakes, and alligators.

Learn more:

Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center:  Wetland Ecosystems

Wetlands as Bird Habitat

National Wetlands Research Center: About Wetlands

The USGS Water Science School

Tags: Ecosystems, Wetlands, Water, Aquatic