Wetland Conservation

This page is a supplement to my book Wetland Ecology. The subtitle for that book is “Principles and Conservation.” My view is that scientific principles and conservation applications are tightly intertwined. There is a set of fundamental principles in wetland ecology that apply around the world. These scientific principles (or ‘laws’) apply whatever your political or geographic location. However, these general principles need to be applied skillfully in each location, keeping in mind that each political region has its own set of laws and regulations. So, each person involved in wetland conservation needs to keep both eyes open — one eye on global principles and the other eye on local constraints. Before we continue with more on conservation, here are two introductory sources that may be useful:

  1. My book, Wetland Ecology: Principles and Conservation, is a guide to wetlands that is used world-wide. The first chapter answers some simple questions. What is a wetland? What kinds of wetlands are there? What sorts of plants and animals live in wetlands? What services do wetlands provide to human beings? What factors create wetlands?
  2. For a video introduction to the environmental factors that create wetlands, I invite you to enjoy this public talk in Denver from the Society of Wetlands Scientists annual meeting, or this webinar prepared for them.

First, we will start at the very begnning. There are three first steps to protect a specific wetland:

Picture of wetlands

(1) Identify the wetland.

(2) Prepare a map of the wetland.

(3) Ensure that the wetland is protected by local laws and regulations.

These most basic steps in wetland conservation apply whether you are interested in a small local wetland near your home town or a vast wetland that occurs in a wild part of your country. Of course, completing these steps will take some time. In some parts of the world, maps already exist. In others, they may not. The laws and regulations that protect wetlands also vary, depending upon where you live. New laws may be needed in some circumstances.

A short guide titled How Much Habitat is Enough? provides basic information on how to protect wetlands within landscapes. Although the guide was prepared for Canada, the same principles apply throughout the world. So, if you wish to become a friend of a wetland, How Much Habitat is Enough? is a good place to start.

When you are preparing or collecting maps, note that each wetland will benefit from a surrounding buffer zone. Often, adoining forests are vital to the wetland as well.

Once you have completed the three steps, it is time for a fourth:

(4) Monitor the wetland. Make regular visits to ensure that laws and regulations are being enforced, and to further familiarize yourself with the fauna and flora of the wetland. This step can be lots of fun, with hikes or boat excursions at different times of the year. You can even start making lists of the most important plants and animals that occur in the wetland. Expect surprises. What rare or endangered species live in the wetland? Where do critical species of birds or turtles nest?

Once a wetland is mapped, and given protection, and being regularly monitored, it will still eventually need one more step:

(5) Wise managment. This is particularly so if the wetland contains rare or endangered species. It is often necessary to monitor natural processes such as changes in water levels or nutrients. When these environmental factors are altered, deleterious changes may occur in the wetland. A widespread global problem is the building of dams, levees and canals, all of which disrupt wetlands.

Overall, we need to protect examples of the many different kinds of wetlands that occur around the world, including swamps, marshes, fens and bogs. These are produced by different causal factors. My book Wetland Ecology introduces the different kinds of wetlands, and the most important causal factors. Here is a link to a global map maintained by Ramsar that includes some examples of protected wetlands. However, the map is a work in progress, and many locally important wetlands are not yet shown.

Below are more sources that will help you with the process of protecting wetlands. The first two sections are contributions from my own research. This makes sense, in part because my work, and the resulting publications, were often inspired by conservation problems that I had seen personally. The third section provides a selection of other general readings useful for wetland conservation. I suggest in any case that you might want to begin with one of my two video presentations on the principles of wetland ecology and their applications to wetland conservation.

Four Essential Readings on Wetland Conservation by Paul Keddy

Wetland Ecology

Other Recommended Readings from Paul Keddy

  • Keddy, P. A., L. Gough, J. A. Nyman, T. McFalls, J. Carter and J. Siegrist. 2009. Alligator hunters, pelt traders, and runaway consumption of Gulf coast marshes: A trophic cascade perspective on coastal wetland losses. p. 115-133 in B. R. Silliman, E. D. Grosholz, and M. D. Bertness (eds.) Human Impacts on Salt Marshes. A Global Perspective. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA. (Download PDF) (Alligators in particular, but large predators in general, have important roles to play in regulating the impact of herbivores in wetlands. Alligator hunting may be having harmful effects on wetlands all along the Gulf Coast of North America.)
  • Geho, E.M., D. Campbell and P. A. Keddy. 2007. Quantifying ecological filters: the relative impact of herbivory, neighbours, and sediment on an oligohaline marsh. Oikos 116: 1006-1016. (Download PDF) (Herbivores have a big impact on marsh vegetation, which is why predators like alligators may be very important in the ecology of wetlands.)
  • Toner, M. and P. Keddy. 1997. River hydrology and riparian wetlands: a predictive model for ecological assembly. Ecological Applications 7: 236-246. (Download PDF) (Spring flood pulses control the distribution of swamps and marshes along the Ottawa River. This is an example of why flood pulses matter in watersheds, and it is part of the background for the twin limit marsh model.)
  • Weiher, E., I. C. Wisheu, P.A. Keddy and D.R.J. Moore. 1996. Establishment, persistence, and management implications of experimental wetland plant communities. Wetlands 16: 208-218. (Download PDF) (These experiments using artificially constructed wetlands in a mesocosm show that even small changes in water level or fertility can have an enormous effect on the species composition of wetlands.)
  • Gaudet, C.L. and P.A. Keddy. 1995. Competitive performance and species distribution in shoreline plant communities: a comparative approach. Ecology 76: 280-291. (Download PDF) (Competition plays an important role in controlling plant distribution in wetlands, and rare plants are often restricted to infertile areas with low competition intensity.)
  • Wisheu, I. C., C. J. Keddy, P. A. Keddy and N. M. Hill. 1994. Disjunct Atlantic coastal plain species in Nova Scotia: distribution, habitat and conservation priorities. Biological Conservation 68: 217-224. (Southwestern Nova Scotia is a biological hot spot for rare wetland plants in eastern North America.)
  • Boutin, C. and P. A. Keddy. 1993. A functional classification of wetland plants. Journal of Vegetation Science 4: 591-600. (Download PDF). (There are many species of wetland plants, but they can be sorted into a relatively small number of functional types.)
  • Wisheu, I. C. and P. A. Keddy. 1992. Competition and centrifugal organization of ecological communities: theory and tests. Journal of Vegetation Science 3: 147-156. (Download PDF) (A general model explains some of the variation in wetland plant communities, particularly why infertile habitats have more rare plant species. This approach is used in the wetland classification system for the province of Ontario, Canada.)

Other Recommended Readings

  • Adam, P. 1990. Saltmarsh Ecology. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  • Bardecki, M. J. and N. Patterson (eds.). 1989. Ontario Wetlands: Inertia or Momentum, Proceedings of conference, Ryerson Polytechnical Institute, Toronto, Oct 21-22, 1988.
  • Denny, P. (ed.). 1985. The Ecology and Management of African Wetland Vegetation. Junk, Dordrecht.
  • Dugan, P. (ed.) 2005. Guide to Wetlands. Firefly, Richmond Hill, Ontario.
  • Environment Canada. 2013. How Much Habitat is Enough? 3rd. ed. Environment Canada, Toronto, Ontario.
  • Gore, A. J. P. (ed.). 1983. Ecosystems of the World 4A. Mires: Swamp, Bog, Fen and Moor. Elsevier, Amsterdam.
  • Junk, W. J. (ed.). 1997. The Central Amazon Floodplain. Springer-Verlag, Berlin.
  • Lu, J. 1995. Ecological significance and classification of Chinese wetlands. Vegetatio 118: 49-56.
  • Lugo, A. E., M. Brinson and S. Brown (eds.). 1990. Forested Wetlands. Elsevier, Amsterdam.
  • Mitsch, W. J. and J. G. Gosselink. 2015. Wetlands. Wiley, New Jersey.
  • Patten. B. C. (ed.). 1990. Wetlands and Shallow Continental Water Bodies. Vol.1. Natural and Human Relationships. SPB Academic Publishing, The Hague, The Netherlands.
  • Rubec, C. 1988. Wetlands of Canada. Ecological Land Classification Series, No. 24, Environment Canada, Ottawa.
  • Salo, J., R. Kalliola, I. Hakkinen, Y. Makinen, P. Niemela, M. Puhakka and P.D. Coley. 1986. River dynamics and the diversity of Amazon lowland forest. Nature 322: 254-258.
  • Sioli, H. (ed.). 1984. The Amazon. Limnology and Landscape Ecology of a Mighty Tropical River and its Basin. Junk Publishers, The Netherlands.
  • van der Valk, A. G. 1989. Northern Prairie Wetlands. Iowa State University Press, Ames, Iowa.