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wetlands,low-lying ecosystem where the water tablewater table,
the top zone of soil and rock in which all voids are saturated with water. The level of the water table varies with topography and climate, and depends on the degree to which the groundwater lost due to environmental reasons or human use, is replenished.
..... Click the link for more information. is always at or near the surface. It is divided into estuarine and freshwater systems, which may be further subdivided by soil type and plant life into bogsbog,
very old lake without inlet or outlet that becomes acid and is gradually overgrown with a characteristic vegetation (see swamp). Peat moss, or sphagnum, grows around the edge of the open water of a bog (peat is obtained from old bogs) and out on the surface.
..... Click the link for more information. , swampsswamp,
shallow body of water in a low-lying, poorly drained depression, usually containing abundant plant growth dominated by trees, such as cypress, and high shrubs. Swamps develop in moist climates, generally in such places as low-lying coastal plains, floodplains of rivers,
..... Click the link for more information. , and marshes. Because wetlands have poor drainage, the area is characterized by sluggish or standing water that can create an open-water habitat for wildlife. Wetlands help to regulate the water cycle, filter the water supply, prevent soil erosion, and absorb floodwaters. More significantly, however, wetlands serve as spawning and feeding grounds for nearly one third of the endangered animal and plant species in the United States, and their ecological value in most other countries is comparable.
Many wetlands were destroyed by urban growth and farming before their value was recognized. More than half of U.S. wetlands in the lower 48 states have been lost since colonial times. Federal wetlands policy today is based on the wetlands provisions (1987) of the Clean Water Act. The working concept is that of "no net loss," a concept that has been interpreted in various ways by each federal administration. Although the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has estimated that more than one million acres (about 400,000 hectares) of wetlands were lost in the decade from 1985 to 1995, this assessment was down from nearly 3 million acres (1.2 million hectares) lost in the previous decade, before the wetlands preservation policy was in force. As part of the "no net loss" policy, developers who fill wetlands may create new ones, but a 2001 National Academy of Sciences report found that new wetlands were not always created and when they were they were often of lesser value, both to the environment and to people, than the wetlands they replaced. The report recommended that replacement wetlands be designed to recreate the function of the developed wetlands.
Because of the restrictions wetlands protection can place on development and agriculture, it has become a political battleground between property rights activists and environmentalists. In 2001 the Supreme Court ruled that the Clean Water Act did not authorize federal regulation of so-called isolated wetlands (wetlands that do not abut navigable waters or their tributaries); as much as a fifth of the nation's wetlands are potentially affected by the ruling.
Ecosystems that form transitional areas between terrestrial and aquatic components of a landscape. Typically they are shallow-water to intermittently flooded ecosystems, which results in their unique combination of hydrology, soils, and vegetation. Examples of wetlands include swamps, fresh- and salt-water marshes, bogs, fens, playas, vernal pools and ponds, floodplains, organic and mineral soil flats, and tundra. As transitional elements in the landscape, wetlands often develop at the interface between drier uplands such as forests and farmlands, and deep-water aquatic systems such as lakes, rivers, estuaries, and oceans. Thus, wetland ecosystems are characterized by the presence of water that flows over, ponds on the surface of, or saturates the soil for at least some portion of the year.
Vegetated wetlands are dominated by plant species, called hydrophytes, that are adapted to live in water or under saturated soil conditions. Adaptations that allow plants to survive in a water-logged environment include morphological features, such as pneumatophores (the “knees,” or exposed roots, of the bald cypress), buttressed tree trunks, shallow root systems, floating leaves, hypertrophied lenticels, inflated plant parts, and adventitious roots. Physiological adaptations also allow plants to survive in a wetland environment. These include the ability of plants to transfer oxygen from the root system into the soil immediately surrounding the root (rhizosphere oxidation); the reduction or elimination of ethanol accumulation due to low concentrations of alcohol dehydrogenase; and the ability to concentrate malate (a nontoxic metabolite) instead of ethanol in the root system. See Root (botany)
Wetlands differ with respect to their origin, position in the landscape, and hydrologic and biotic characteristics. For example, work has focused on the hydrology as well as the geomorphic position of wetlands in the landscape. This hydrogeomorphic approach recognizes and uses the fundamental physical properties that define wetland ecosystems to distinguish among classes of wetlands that occur in riverine, depressional, estuarine or lake fringe, mineral or organic soil flats, and slope environments.
The extent of wetlands in the world is estimated to be 2–3 × 106 mi2 (5–8 × 106 km2), or about 4–6% of the Earth's land surface. Wetlands are found on every continent except Antarctica and in every clime from the tropics to the frozen tundra. Rice paddies, which comprise another 500,000–600,000 mi2 (1.3–1.5 × 106 km2), can be considered as a type of domesticated wetland of great value to human societies worldwide. See Mangrove, Salt marsh, Tundra
Wetlands are often an extremely productive part of the landscape. They support a rich variety of waterfowl and aquatic organisms, and represent one of the highest levels of species diversity and richness of any ecosystem. Wetlands are an extremely important habitat for rare and endangered species.
Wetlands often serve as natural filters for human and naturally generated nutrients, organic materials, and contaminants. The ability to retain, process, or transform these substances is called assimilative capacity, and is strongly related to wetland soil texture and vegetation. The assimilative capacity of wetlands has led to many projects that use wetland ecosystems for wastewater treatment and for improving water quality. Wetlands also have been shown to prevent downstream flooding and, in some cases, to prevent ground-water depletion as well as to protect shorelines from storm damage. The best wetland management practices enhance the natural processes of wetlands by maintaining conditions as close to the natural hydrology of the wetland as possible.
The world's wetlands are becoming a threatened landscape. Loss of wetlands worldwide currently is estimated at 50%. Wetland loss results primarily from habitat destruction, alteration of wetland hydrology, and landscape fragmentation. Global warming may soon be added to this list, although the exact loss of coastal wetlands due to sea-level rise is not well documented. Worldwide, destruction of wetland ecosystems primarily has been through the conversion of wetlands to agricultural land. The heavy losses of wetlands in the world, coupled with the recognized values of these systems, have led to a number of policy initiatives at both the national and international levels. See Ecosystem, Restoration ecology