Wetlands

A wetland is a distinct ecosystem that is flooded by water, either permanently or seasonally, where oxygen-free processes prevail. The primary factor that distinguishes wetlands from other landforms or water bodies is the characteristic vegetation of aquatic plants, adapted to the unique hydric soil. In this system, wetlands are classified by landscape position, vegetation cover and hydrologic regime. The Cowardian system includes five major wetland types: marine, tidal, lacustrine, palustrine and riverine. Wetlands may support both aquatic and terrestrial species. The prolonged presence of water creates conditions that favour the growth of specially adapted plants (hydrophytes) and promote the development of characteristic wetland (hydric) soil. Wetlands are a critical part of our natural environment. They protect our shores from wave action, reduce the impacts of floods, absorb pollutants and improve water quality. They provide habitat for animals and plants and many contain a wide diversity of life, supporting plants and animals that are found nowhere else. Wetlands exist in many kinds of climates, on every continent except Antarctica. They vary in size from isolated prairie potholes to huge salt marshes. They are found along coasts and inland. Some wetlands are flooded woodlands, full of trees. There are four main kinds of wetlands – marsh, swamp, bog and fen (bogs and fens being types of mires). Some experts also recognize wet meadows and aquatic ecosystems as additional wetland types. The largest wetlands in the world include the swamp forests of the Amazon and the peatlands of Siberia.