Wetland Functions: Education, Erosion, and Water Quality

We’re rounding up our Wetlands series with the final four functions of a wetland. It’s important to remember that wetlands affect all development projects, not just rural development. Wetland areas exist in downtowns, too, or adjacent to them. They also protect our downtowns from damage during storm and flood events.

Exemplary Natural Community: Essentially, this is a category for super-special wetlands that contain rare habitats or species. Dwarf shrub bogs, alpine peatland, and red maple-black gum swamp are some types of these exemplary wetlands. Their function is preservation of species and wetland ecology.

Education and Research: Wetlands are amazing places to learn about and study ecological systems, in part because they are discrete systems with boundaries. Unlike forests, which can range for hundreds or thousands of miles and share fuzzy borders with other ecosystems, wetland species cannot survive outside the specific conditions of a wetland. So scientists can learn a lot about ecosystem interconnectivity.

Erosion Control: Wetlands along streams, rivers, lakes, and ocean shorelines help prevent the loss of soil to erosion during storms and floods. This, in turn, helps prevent damage to human settlements
during those same events. During a hurricane, for example, the roots of wetland plants will hold on to soil even as fast-moving water rushes over it, preventing loss of land and silt damage farther downstream.

Surface and Ground Water Protection: Wetlands act as gigantic sponges for pollutants, soaking them up and detoxifying our water supplies. This is true for sediments, chemicals, and excess nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorous). This keeps our water clean and prevents problems elsewhere in the ecosystem.

Photos: Vermont Wetlands Program