Growing up in Michigan, I was always fascinated by wetlands. The woods near my house flooded every spring, and I loved to go looking for tadpoles and other aquatic creatures. What I didn’t yet realize was how important wetlands really are.
What is a wetland?
In simple terms, a wetland is an area that is waterlogged or flooded for at least part of the year. Wetland ecosystems can be identified by their unique plant and animal life. There are four basic types of wetlands: swamps, marshes, bogs, and fens. Swamps are forested wetlands with many trees and shrubs, which provide habitat for tree-nesting birds. Marshes, in contrast, are dominated by plants such as grasses and cattails. They are nutrient-rich and support abundant wildlife, including waterfowl. Bogs are acidic, rain-fed wetlands with limited nutrients. They often form when lakes are overgrown by a thick carpet of sphagnum moss. Finally, fens are more alkaline wetlands fed by soil drainage or groundwater. Carnivorous plants can be found in bogs and fens in Michigan! Other common wetland inhabitants include dragonflies, frogs, turtles, muskrats, blue herons, and many more.
Why are wetlands important?
Clearly, wetlands are fascinating and unique ecosystems, but they also have many important functions that benefit humans and the environment. According to Michigan’s wetland statute, wetlands provide critical wildlife habitat, including nesting and feeding sites for our native waterfowl. They also buffer against flooding, recharge clean groundwater, and sequester carbon and pollutants, among many other benefits. Unfortunately, over half of the wetlands in Michigan have been drained or filled to make room for human development, and those that remain are vulnerable to pollution and habitat fragmentation. Wetland protection and restoration are needed to ensure that our wetlands are around for generations to come.
Here at Kellogg Bird Sanctuary, extensive work has been done to restore native wetland habitat. I highly recommend checking out the wetland areas along the Lake Loop Trail. We have many ephemeral wetlands at the Sanctuary that fill with rainwater in the spring and provide breeding habitat for frogs and salamanders, so keep an eye out!
Be a wetland defender!
Our Michigan wetlands are a precious resource, but they are under threat due to habitat loss and degradation. February 2 is World Wetlands Day, so there’s no better time to help protect your local wetlands! Here are some ways you can take action:
- Learn more about wetlands and share with your friends and family
- Experience wetlands for yourself – visit Kellogg Bird Sanctuary!
- Join the vernal pool patrol
- Contribute to wetland restoration in your area
Ayley Shortridge is a second-year Ph.D. student in the Janzen Lab at the Kellogg Biological Station and a 2023-24 Science Education and Outreach Fellow. She studies how turtles are impacted by their changing environment and enjoys writing about science and conservation.