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Functions & values of wetlands

This information was modified from Chapter 2 of At Home with Wetlands: A Landowner's Guide.

Wetlands perform many ecological functions. Our understanding of the complexities wetland ecosystems represent is still developing, and it seems the more we learn the more valuable wetlands become.

Wetland ecologists have already documented the following environmental benefits of wetlands:

  • Water purification
  • Flood protection
  • Shoreline stabilization
  • Groundwater recharge and stream flow maintenance

Wetlands also provide habitat for fish and wildlife, including endangered species. Not all wetlands provide all of these benefits, and how your particular wetland works depends on its location and type.

Some of the values of wetlands are yours and yours alone. No one else can say what the open space means to you and your family. You determine the benefit to your quality of life and how you value a wetland's beauty.

Wetland benefits depend on health

As amazing as wetlands are and contribute to the environment, they do have their limits. A partially filled or otherwise damaged wetland can only partially meet its potential for flood control, shoreline stabilization, or groundwater recharge.

A degraded wetland can lose its capacity to remove excess sediments, nutrients, and other pollutants. It can also lose its habitat value for fish and wildlife. Wetlands may have tremendous capacities to provide environmental benefits but they are not indestructible. If people want wetlands to continue to perform their ecological functions then we all must do our part to protect them.

Below is a summary of how wetlands perform their complicated functions, along with a brief explanation of how these functions support humans and other species.

Water purification Shoreline Stabilization Groundwater recharge and stream flow maintenance Flood protection Fish and wildlife habitat Economic benefits