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Guide to Wetlands
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Guide to Wetlands

by Patrick Dugan (Editor)

A comprehensive and fascinating guide to the wetlands of the world that covers important wetland wildlife in detail, with a special focus on birds.

The ecology of marshes, estuaries, floodplains, lagoons, swamps and bogs supports an exceptionally rich diversity of species. Many wetlands around the world are now open to the public as nature reserves that


A comprehensive and fascinating guide to the wetlands of the world that covers important wetland wildlife in detail, with a special focus on birds.

The ecology of marshes, estuaries, floodplains, lagoons, swamps and bogs supports an exceptionally rich diversity of species. Many wetlands around the world are now open to the public as nature reserves that generate millions of visitors including birdwatchers and amateur ecologists.

Guide to Wetlands covers the many aspects of the study of wetlands in a single, portable volume. Using spectacular color photographs and clear explanatory illustrations alongside the author's concise text, it discusses:

  • What are wetlands
  • Wetland diversity
  • How wetlands work
  • The need for wetlands
  • Adapting to life in wetlands
  • Plant adaptation
  • Animal adaptation
  • People and wetlands
  • Loss of wetlands
  • Rural development and agriculture
  • Wetland conservation
  • Wetland wildlife.

The book includes a wetland atlas with maps identifying wetland environments around the world and describing topography and important features. Birdwatchers will find this book of particular interest.

Guide to Wetlands is an essential reference on a crucial aspect of the global environment that will appeal to naturalists, birdwatchers, ecologists and travelers.

Editorial Reviews

California Garden - Suzie Heap
An armchair world tour of the world's wetlands.
Science Books and Films - Janet R. Mihuc
An atlas of wetlands across the world... a great resource for addressing the ecological role, diversity, and human use of wetlands... a wealth of information on wetlands in this compact book.
Choice - C. Leck
A wealth of information on the major wetlands of the world, with an emphasis on their ecological roles, human impact, and conservation... Color illustrations (mainly photographs) are abundant in all sections and quite instructively labeled. Summing Up: Recommended.

Product Details

Firefly Books, Limited
Publication date:
Firefly Pocket Series
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 7.75(h) x 0.75(d)

Read an Excerpt

What are wetlands?

Most of us are familiar with wetlands in some shape or form. A nearby pond, the trout stream or the local estuary, for example, are just three of the many types of wetland that are widespread throughout temperate regions. But further south, in tropical and subtropical regions, there are muddy tidal flats, expansive flood-plains and misty swamplands: three very different environments with very different plants and animals, but these are wetlands too.

Wetland diversity

There are more than 50 definitions of wetlands in use throughout the world. Among these the broadest, and therefore that which is used most widely on an international scale, is provided by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, Especially as Waterfowl Habitat. Ramsar is an Iranian city lying on the shores of the Caspian Sea, and it was here that the Wetland Convention was adopted in 1971. Designed to provide international protection to the widest possible group of wetland ecosystems, the Ramsar Convention uses a broad definition of wetlands including swamps and marshes, lakes and rivers, wet grasslands and peatlands, oases, estuaries, deltas and tidal flats, near-shore marine areas, mangroves and coral reefs, and man-made sites such as fish ponds, rice paddies, reservoirs and salt pans.

Estuaries, mangroves and tidal flats

Estuaries form where rivers enter the sea. The daily tidal cycle and the intermediate salinity between salt and freshwater; which are characteristic of these ecosystems, make them difficult places in which to live. However, those species that have adapted successfully thrive in these conditions. Indeed, estuaries and inshore marine waters are among the most naturally fertile habitats in the world.

Estuaries are found in all regions of the world, but their productivity varies with climate, hydrology (the water cycle) and coastal land forms. Many estuaries are associated with important lagoon systems, some of which have been created by the closure of one of the estuaries' outlets to the sea. Intemperate regions, intertidal mud and sand flats, salt marshes and scattered, rocky outcrops are common features of estuaries. In the tropics and subtropics, however, mangroves dominate many coastal habitats and are characteristic of most estuaries.

Variously referred to as "coastal woodland", "tidal forest" and mangrove forest", mangroves comprise very diverse plant communities, whose composition varies greatly from region to region. Even within the same delta, the composition of the mangrove community can vary substantially according to the conditions of salinity, tidal system and substrate (the soil foundation). Approximately 80 species of plant are recognized as being mangroves. They share a variety of adaptations that enable them to grow in the unstable conditions of estuarine habitats in the tropics and subtropics.

Although mangroves, mud flats and other coastal wetland habitats are normally most extensive around estuaries, they are also found along areas of open coast. For example, in Mauritania, the Banc d'Arguin, Africa's largest system of tidal flats, receives no significant surface inflow of freshwater. And sandy beaches, which are characteristic of almost every coastal country, support important populations of wildlife, including migratory shorebirds and nesting marine turtles.

Floodplains and deltas

As rivers swell with seasonal rainfall they slowly rise above the river channel and under natural conditions flow out over the neighboring plain. This pattern of seasonal flooding was once a common feature of most of the world's rivers. Today, however; with the increasingly widespread construction of dams and embankments, the natural patterns of flooding have been severely disrupted in many regions. Nevertheless, the annual cycle of inundation and drying of the world's floodplains remains one of the most important forces governing wetland productivity.

In many areas of the world, floodplains are found in coastal lowlands and end in estuarine deltas where they become complex mosaics of marine, brackish and freshwater habitats. Alternatively, some of the world's larger rivers spread out over floodplains far inland, many of them covering vast areas that include grassy marshes, flooded forest, oxbow lakes and other depressions. These floodplains are often referred to as inland deltas. Some of the most important floodplains, such as the Inner Niger Delta in Mali, are in arid areas where their exceptional productivity is not only vital to the local economy of the region, but also supports some rare and spectacular concentrations of waterbirds as well as other wildlife.

Freshwater marshes

Stretching from Lake Okeechobee to the southwest tip of Florida, USA, the Everglades covers over 2,700 square miles (7,000 square kilometers). It is one of the world's largest freshwater marshes. At the other extreme of the scale are the marshes that form in small, wet areas wherever groundwater; surface springs, streams or excess runoff cause frequent flooding, or create permanent areas of shallow water.

Although few freshwater marshes can compare in size to the Everglades, the vast number of small marshes makes this type of wetland among the most widespread and important worldwide. Large areas of southern Africa, for example, are dotted with "dambos", small freshwater marshes, which provide essential grazing and agricultural land for many rural communities. In North America, the Prairie Pothole region includes several million freshwater marshes at densities as high as 150
per square mile (60 per square kilometer) in some areas. Some of the larger marshes dominated by papyrus (Cyperus papyrus), cattail (Typha sp.) and reed (Phragmites sp.), and which have standing water throughout most of the year; are normally referred to as swamps rather than wetlands.


The diversity of lakes and ponds is the result of a host of different processes. Some lakes, such as Reelfoot Lake, Tennessee, in the United States, Lake Baikal, in Siberia and Lake Tanganyika, on the borders of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Butundi and Zambia, are formed by folding or faulting of the Earth's crust. Similarly, many crater lakes, including many in the Pacific islands, have been formed through volcanic disturbances. In the Northern Hemisphere, glacial action has been an especially important force. Cirque lakes, thaw lakes, and pothole or kettle lakes all owe their origin to the processes of glacial ice. The action and flow of rivers can also create a variety of different lake types, such as oxbow and alluvial fan lakes, plunge pools and basins. Alpine lakes are formed by landslides and mudflows, while some lakes are remnants of larger ones, formed under more moist prehistoric environments. Shifting sediments by nearshore currents can create shoreline lakes cutoff from larger seas of freshwater bodies.


Once thought to be restricted to the high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, peatlands are now known to exist on all continents and at all latitudes. They are even found in the tropics, where thick deposits form in association with marsh and swamp, particularly around lake margins and coastal regions. In total, peatlands are estimated to cover some 1.5 million square miles (4 million square kilometers). There is a great diversity of peatland worldwide, the pattern being governed by acidity, climate and hydrology (especially whether the peat is kept wet by direct rainfall or lateral groundwater flow). The highly distinctive, northern wetland landscapes of bog, moor; muskeg and fen are all examples of peatland.

In general terms, peat forms under conditions of low temperature, high acidity, low nutrient supply, water-logging and oxygen deficiency. These specific circumstances slow the decomposition of dead plant matter. The characteristics of peatland ecosystems, however; are so varied that it is difficult to

Meet the Author

Dr. Patrick Dugan was the Director of the World Conservation Union's Wetland Program and is now Deputy Director-General of the World Fish Center for Africa and West Asia.

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