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Importance and preservation of wetlands
chapterposted on 06.12.2017, 00:00 by S Boynton, B Madsen, Brett Roe
Wetlands reflect the diversity of life in the United States. They are a part of our heritage, culture, and legacy, and a vital part of the Earth's life-support system. Imagine this land before the time of European settlement: Mangroves skirted our coasts to the south. Salt marshes fringed much of the remaining seashore. Prairies that reached from the Great Lakes to the Rockies were magnificently speckled with the green and blue of wet meadows and prairie potholes. Giant old-growth cypress trees covered with Spanish."moss" grew in the tea-colored water of the southern deepwater swamps, from the Gulf of Mexico up the Mississippi to Illinois and up the Atlantic shore to New Jersey. Water pulsed seasonally into the vast floodplains of the East and Midwest, creating vast bottomland hardwood forests. Even the rare floodplains of the West, like the Great Basin and California's Central Valley, supported ancient wetlands. Riparian wetlands snaked along every stream and river in the land, providing oases of habitat, even in the arid and semi-arid West. Vernal and ephemeral pools were found from coast to coast in forest and desert alike. The glaciated landscapes of the north were covered by peatlands of all kinds and sizes, from highly alkaline fens to extremely acidic bogs, from tiny kettleholes to vast floors of former glacial lakes. These diverse ecosystems performed a vast array of ecological functions. They controlled flooding, recharged groundwater, filtered sediments from water, transformed nutrients and other compounds, acted as sinks for carbon dioxide, prevented erosion, provided habitat for plant species found nowhere else on the landscape, supported populations of animals - from fish to moose - at critical times of year, and provided early human populations with everything from food (berries, meat) to fuel and building materials (wood) to medicinal supplies (peat mosses).