February 2 – World Wetlands Day

Posted on February 2, 2016

Wetlands are really, really important to the Earth's biosphere. These ecosystems are land areas that are saturated with water (either all the time or just part of the year); the plants that grow in wetlands are adapted to wet soil, and many different sorts of animals live in wetlands as well.

Wetlands are considered the most biologically diverse of all ecosystems. That means that there are more different kinds of plants and animals in wetlands than there are in either fully aquatic or drier land ecosystems. And some animals that only live in wetlands part-time use those areas to breed, feed, or even “just” rest. (Resting is important for migratory birds!)

Wetlands often act as reservoirs that hold fresh water. They often act as filters, because wetlands plants remove impurities and excess nutrients from water.

Do I need to point out that anything that is important to the Earth's biosphere is also important to humans? According to the World Wetlands Day website, more than a billion people make a living from wetlands! 

Here are some types of wetlands:


Swamps are wetlands that are forested. Swamps can be fresh water, brackish water (somewhat salty), or seawater (very salty).

Mangroves are adapted to having "wet and salty feet."
Swamps are often pictured as kind of sinister and creepy.


Marshes have few if any woody plants – and any woody plants that occur are low-growing shrubs. So, no trees. Usually, marshes are grassy.


Bogs are characterized by peat – dead plant materials that have accumulated and made the water acidic.

Bogs are sometimes called mires, quagmires, or muskegs. We talk about getting mired in work, bogged down by a problem, or stuck in a quagmire (a tricky situation that is difficult to solve) because sometimes people or animals get stuck in bogs or mires.

Don't worry; this horse WAS pulled to safety.


Fens are also mires, but they are alkaline rather than acidic. Rather than coming from peat (dead plant materials), the waters of a fen are full of minerals and often bubble up from springs.

Even though wetlands are so important to food chains, biodiversity, and even human economies, some people view them as just wasteland. They sometimes want to drain such areas so that they can build more stores and apartments and roads. We have lost more than 64% of the Earth's wetlands since 1900.


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