Wetland Habitats of North America: Ecology and Conservation Concerns

Wetland Habitats of North America: Ecology and Conservation Concerns

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Wetlands are prominent landscapes throughout North America. The general characteristics of wetlands are controversial, thus there has not been a systematic assessment of different types of wetlands in different parts of North America, or a compendium of the threats to their conservation. Wetland Habitats of North America adopts a geographic and habitat approach, in which experts familiar with wetlands from across North America provide analyses and syntheses of their particular region of study. Addressing a broad audience of students, scientists, engineers, environmental managers, and policy makers, this book reviews recent, scientifically rigorous literature directly relevant to understanding, managing, protecting, and restoring wetland ecosystems of North America.

Editorial Reviews

Freshwater Science - Matt R. Whiles

An essential component of the library of anyone working in the realm of freshwater ecology.


"Wetland Habitats of North America offers plenty of information for the variety of wetland types that are discussed, will be a valuable reference for all wetland scientists and deserves a place in their library."

From the Publisher

"An essential component of the library of anyone working in the realm of freshwater ecology."--Freshwater Science

Library Journal

Batzer (entomology, Univ. of Georgia; co-editor, Invertebrates in Freshwater Wetlands of North America) and Baldwin (environmental science & technology, Univ. of Maryland) aim to provide a broad overview of the 56 different types of wetlands or estuaries in the United States. The book is modeled after similar profiles done mainly in the 1980s by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and is intended for an academic audience at the undergraduate or graduate level, though the editors note that non-students interested in the subject will also find it helpful. After an introduction, which contains several tables indicating which chapters cover various topics of interest such as climatic variation, sedimentation, and mercury contamination, the material is divided into two parts, "Coastal Wetlands" and "Inland Wetlands." Each chapter within these two parts contains subdivisions on geology, plant life, animal communities, and conservation concerns and ends with an extremely comprehensive listing of references. Relevant maps, tables, and statistical information appear throughout, and additional materials are available online. VERDICT This title succeeds as a textbook, given its many in-line citations and copious bibliographical references at the end of each chapter. For those not in academia, the citations may be more of a hindrance than a help. In addition, the print is small, so readability is compromised, all making the title of limited interest to general readers.—Christine Sharbrough, Derry P.L., Manchester, NH

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520271647
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 05/22/2012
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 408
Sales rank: 1,026,778
Product dimensions: 8.60(w) x 11.00(h) x 0.80(d)

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Wetland Habitats of North America

Ecology and Conservation Concerns

By Darold P. Batzer, Andrew H. Baldwin


Copyright © 2012 The Regents of the University of California
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-520-95141-9


Wetland Habitats of North America

An Introduction


The goal of this book is to summarize recent literature and current perspectives on the ecology of wetland habitats of the North American continent and primary concerns regarding their conservation. All wetlands, by definition, share certain characteristics, notably the seasonal or permanent saturation or inundation of soils. This waterlogging of soils and the presence of standing water impose ecological constraints on organisms and a geomorphological environment very different from those of nonwetland ecosystems. Beyond the broad umbrella of inundation and soil saturation, however, wetlands differ dramatically between and within climatic and geomorphic zones due to myriad interacting physical, chemical, and biological processes. Environmental studies or restoration projects conducted in one type of wetland in one part of North America may have outcomes that are broadly or narrowly applicable to wetlands elsewhere. This creates a dilemma for wetland scientists, students, managers, and policymakers, who must identify research projects, implement management or restoration, and develop environmental policy based on limited information.

In this book, we chose a habitat and geographical approach to highlight differences among the most important ecological characteristics and threats to the major types of North American wetlands. This book is a companion volume to Ecology of Freshwater and Estuarine Wetlands (Batzer and Sharitz 2006), which addresses ecosystem processes and structural attributes of wetlands in general, across many types of wetlands. Other recent books that provide general information include Wetlands (Mitsch and Gosselink 2007), Wetland Ecology: Principles and Conservation (Keddy 2010), and The Biology of Freshwater Wetlands (van der Valk 2006). The earlier edition of Wetlands (Mitsch and Gosselink 2000) included seven chapters on individual coastal and inland wetland habitats, which were updated and expanded in a separate volume, Wetland Ecosystems (Mitsch, Gosselink, et al. 2009). Individual habitats were also treated in Coastal Wetlands: An Integrated Ecosystem Approach (Perillo, Wolanski, et al. 2009) and in Ecology of Tidal Freshwater Forested Wetlands of the Southeastern United States (Conner, Doyle, et al. 2007). Our book differs from these works in that it takes a systematic, geographic approach to capture a similar set of ecosystem characteristics and conservation concerns for all major wetland habitat types within different regions of North America. In this, our approach is similar to the "Community Profiles" series published by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The wetlands of North America are wonderfully diverse. They range from the tropics to the Arctic and are widespread in Canada, the United States, Mexico, and Central America. The chapters in this book are written by experts with deep knowledge and experience in most of the major types of wetlands in different regions of North America (Fig. 1.1). Our coverage is complete, with one important exception: Arctic coastal wetlands. Robert Jefferies, a leader in this area, had agreed to author a chapter on this topic, but, to our great sadness, he passed away before he could do so. We refer the reader to a chapter he coauthored in another book (Martini, Jefferies, et al. 2009). To provide a framework, we asked authors to address several main aspects of the wetlands in their region:

• Geology, hydrology, and biogeochemistry

• Plant communities

• Animal communities

• Key ecological processes and controls

• Conservation concerns or threats

To reduce repetition between chapters, we specifically asked authors not to include general information on wetlands, but to focus only on studies or information collected in their region. Chapters on coastal wetlands are included in part I of the book. They are grouped separately from nontidal wetlands because of the overriding influence of tidal hydrology on their structure and functioning. Inland wetlands are grouped in part II. There are many more habitat types of inland wetlands than coastal wetlands due to great variation in relative inputs of precipitation, surface water, and groundwater, as well as their greater surface area and richness of plant and animal taxa. Wetlands of the temperate zone have received more scientific attention than those of the tropics and Arctic, and hence we include more chapters on those wetlands, which primarily occur in the USA. The vast areas of wetlands in northern North America and biologically rich tropical wetlands are nonetheless important and ecologically interesting ecosystems deserving of greater study.

In this introductory chapter, we summarize important differences and similarities between wetland habitats in different regions of North America, separating discussion of coastal and inland wetlands and focusing on key ecological processes and conservation concerns. To assess the generality of processes and concerns, as well as their regional importance, we list their occurrence in each chapter in Tables 1.1 (coastal wetlands) and 1.2 (inland wetlands). This approach does not mean that some processes are not important in regions elsewhere, but may reflect a lack of literature on the topic. Differences among the relative importance of dominant or unique plant or animal taxa are also discussed here.

Coastal Wetlands

Key Ecological Processes and Controls

The development of coastal wetlands is fundamentally a result of geomorphology and climate, which together create hydrologic characteristics that exert an overriding influence on wetland ecosystem structure and function. All authors of coastal chapters in this book explicitly or implicitly identify these factors as fundamental controls on wetland ecosystems (Table 1.1a). The hydrology of coastal wetlands differs considerably from that of inland wetlands in being dominated by tides and, to a lesser extent, surface water inflows (which control salinity, nutrient supply, and sediment deposition). Groundwater and precipitation are rarely mentioned in the coastal chapters. Because coastal wetlands are located in the depositional zone of rivers in estuaries, it is not surprising that sedimentation and salinity are also uniformly recognized as important. However, several biotic processes are mentioned in all of the coastal chapters, including productivity, peat accumulation, predation, outwelling, and vegetation zonation, which are discussed in more detail in this section.

High primary productivity, coupled with slow decomposition rates due to anaerobic conditions, favors the accumulation of peat in soils, providing a mechanism important for the maintenance of wetland surface elevation relative to sea level. Primary productivity and peat accumulation are highlighted in all of the coastal chapters, and decomposition and anaerobiosis are featured in a majority of them (Table 1.1a). Elevation and salinity gradients within individual wetlands and across estuaries lead to horizontal zonation of emergent and submergent plants, another ubiquitous topic in the coastal chapters. Stress-tolerant species occur where salinity or depth and duration of inundation are greater (and hypoxia more pronounced), such as the lower elevations of salt marshes, but studies have demonstrated that these species are often poor competitors in fresher or higher-elevation sites, such as the higher elevations of tidal freshwater wetlands. Under stressful conditions, one species may facilitate the growth of others by, for example, aerating the soil or shading to reduce salinity. Competition and facilitation are recognized as important processes in about half the coastal chapters. Some salt-marsh soils become acidic when drained (acid-sulfate soils, mentioned in two coastal chapters), but coastal wetland soils are generally pH-circumneutral.

High rates of primary productivity and, in many wetlands, structural, spatial, and species diversity of plants, result in high rates of secondary production. Coastal wetlands support estuarine food webs not only by providing in situ habitat and food sources, but also by exporting or "outwelling" organic matter to estuaries, forming an important foundation of coastal food webs that is emphasized in all of the coastal chapters. Coastal wetlands often serve as nurseries for larval and juvenile stages of aquatic organisms, providing refuge from predation, an ecological process mentioned in all of the coastal chapters. Plantanimal interactions are also a major process in most coastal wetlands; herbivory is most frequently mentioned, both for its role in food-web support and as a disturbance process affecting plant community dynamics. Seed-related processes, including dispersal, predation, seed banks, and seedling recruitment, mentioned in a majority of the coastal chapters, are often important to the regeneration of plant communities following disturbance and are critical to diversity maintenance in wetlands containing a large proportion of annual species, such as tidal freshwater marshes. The particular importance of storms and hurricanes is recognized for those regions experiencing regular major hurricanes, i.e., the southeastern U.S. coasts and parts of the Neotropics. Some plants and animals function as ecosystem engineers, altering the geomorphology and hydrology of coastal wetlands; examples include beavers, crabs, and dominant clonal plants. Thus, the vegetation of coastal wetlands is dynamic, in large part due to continued natural disturbance, seed and seedling-recruitment processes, and competitive interactions.

Conservation Concerns

It is not a surprise that sea-level rise is identified as a major threat to coastal wetlands in all parts of North America (Table 1.1b). Increases in the rate of eustatic sea-level rise, coupled with land subsidence in many regions, will challenge the capacity of coastal wetlands to keep pace with rising sea levels. Eutrophication due to inputs of nitrogen or phosphorus from point and nonpoint sources is also identified as important in all regions except the Pacific coast. Excess nutrients are important in shifting plant species composition and have been implicated as a potential factor in marsh die-back.

Many wetlands have been hydrologically altered since European colonization, but despite environmental statutes regulating activities in wetlands, hydrologic alterations continue to threaten coastal wetlands in many regions of North America. Notably, these are not mentioned as being of overriding importance for south Atlantic wetlands, which are relatively unimpacted physically relative to other parts of the North American coast (except for widespread historic conversion of tidal freshwater wetlands to rice fields), or for Pacific coast wetlands, where the vast majority of coastal wetlands historically were lost due to diking, but which are currently closely protected and restoration efforts are ongoing (Table 1.1b). Neotropical coastal wetlands, in contrast, were primarily used for sustainable harvest of vegetation and animal products until recent decades, when many mangrove forests have been converted to aquaculture ponds or tourist resorts.

Nonnative or invasive species of plants or animals are also identified as a major conservation concern in a majority of coastal wetland chapters (Table 1.1b). Exceptions are the south Atlantic coastal wetlands and the Neotropics. South Atlantic wetlands may not face the invasive species problems of other regions due to lower ongoing physical alteration of coastal wetlands, perhaps due to lower population densities. In the Neotropics, temperate-zone plants and animals may not be able to tolerate elevated temperatures or to compete with tropical plants, reducing their threat to tropical ecosystems.

In addition to causing increases in eustatic sea levels, changes in precipitation and temperature may impact wetlands in several ways and are mentioned in a majority of the coastal chapters. Lower precipitation may result in salinity increases in some regions where flow of freshwater to the coast is already insufficient or decreasing due to human alteration of hydrology, for example in the Pacific coast and south Atlantic watersheds. Similarly, climate change may cause widespread drought, a likely factor in die-back of coastal wetlands. Higher temperatures will differentially affect the growth of plant and animal species, as well as speed up processes such as decomposition that are fundamental to wetland ecosystem function. Increases in atmospheric CO2 (mentioned in only two chapters but likely to be important in all wetlands) are not only a cause of climate change, but also will alter plant community dynamics and potentially other ecosystem processes. Increasing human population density (identified in three coastal chapters) continues to threaten coastal wetlands via watershed development, land-use changes, harvesting of plant and animal resources, and further hydrologic alteration.

These and other conservation concerns are related and linked in complex ways that require novel research approaches to untangle. Manipulative experiments that examine multiple processes together can provide insights into how factors such as CO2, nutrients, salinity, and temperature interact. Such experiments, coupled with observational studies and system modeling, can help us progress toward greater understanding and better prediction of how human activities are affecting coastal wetlands. However, the chapters in this book highlight that coastal wetland research must be multidisciplinary so that interactions between hydrology, climate, geomorphology, biogeochemistry, and organisms can be explored.

Inland Wetlands

Key Ecological Processes and Controls

As for coastal systems, hydrologic variation is identified as an important control on ecology by every author addressing inland wetlands (Table 1.2a). Given that inland wetlands can be fed by various sources of water (precipitation, groundwater, riverine flows), and that water budgets can vary greatly—either spatially among and within wetlands, or temporally among and within seasons, years, and decades—the importance given to hydrology is to be expected. Geomorphic and climatic variation are also identified as being important controls by most authors, primarily because these are the factors that most influence the hydrology of inland wetlands. The chemical nature of the water, including nutrient levels (phosphorus and, to a lesser extent, nitrogen), pH, oxygen level, and salinity (especially in western wetlands), is also considered important. It is clear from Table 1.2a that the abiotic template dictated by the physico-chemical conditions of water is considered the major control on the ecology of inland wetlands.

However, biotic interactions in inland wetlands are also considered important influences by most authors (Table 1.2a). Bottom-up controls are most frequently discussed. Nutrient limitation on plants from P and N, as well as competition for light and space, are common themes. Mutualism, especially in relation to nitrogen fixation by plants/microbes, is discussed in five chapters. Plants as food (herbivory or detritivory) or as habitat are considered crucial bottom-up controls on wetland animals by most authors. Top-down control from predation, either on other animals or on plants, is identified as an important control by about half of the authors of inland wetland chapters. Control of wetlands by keystone animal species is another important top-down impact, with beavers being by far the most influential animal.


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