May is American Wetlands Month

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — With 20% of the nation’s wetlands, Florida is a prime location to observe American Wetlands Month. As Peter Frederick, a University of Florida research professor, puts it: “You don’t have to go very far in Florida to hit a wetland.”

But the state has also seen the most wetland loss in the United States, according to Frederick, a faculty member at the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences’ department of wildlife ecology and conservation. A wetland is considered “lost” when it has been converted into a dry place for agricultural or development purposes.

“As a part of the landscape, wetlands are very important,” Frederick said. “They are strongly connected to other ecosystems – terrestrial and aquatic, plant and animal.”

In its most basic definition, Frederick said, a wetland is a place that dries on occasion. They are in coastal areas, inland areas, and even in our backyards. The cyclical drying and wetting is important to the health and long-term maintenance of the wetland.

“Humans have this love-hate relationship with wetlands,” Frederick said. “Globally, we’ve lost about 87% of wetlands, and we’re still losing wetlands at a rate that is three times faster than any other forest type in the world, including rainforests.”

But, he said, wetlands provide many important functions. They are habitats for a variety plant and wildlife species – 40% to 60% of threatened or endangered species depend on wetlands for some portion of their life cycle, Frederick added – and are also effective at flood protection and water treatment.

“Wetlands can be thought of as the ‘kidneys’ of the water world,” he said. “They’re good at filtering out things like sediment and pollution that we don’t want in our waterways.”

Recent efforts have focused on restoring wetlands and the habitats that are supported by them.

“Wetlands are quite resilient and tend to respond quickly to restoration efforts,” Frederick said. “Scientists are now tackling major things like the Chesapeake Bay, San Francisco Bay and the Everglades. These are on track to be completed and to be successful.”

But with challenges like climate change and sea level rise, pollution, global water usage, and transforming natural wetlands for development or sewage needs, Frederick said wetlands need attention.

“Wetlands are not pristine. They can handle some pollution,” Frederick said. “But there are limits.”

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The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS website at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.

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