Rethinking wetland restoration: Smaller wetlands more valuable than previously thought

Rethinking wetland restoration: Smaller wetlands more valuable than previously thought

Posted: 24 Mar 2015 01:40 PM PDT

Most efforts to protect and restore wetlands mistakenly focus on preserving only total wetland area, with no consideration of ecosystem services provided by different wetland types, according to a new study from the University of Waterloo. The study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Ecological Applications last month, shows wetland loss follows a strong pattern, with smaller, isolated wetlands being lost in much greater numbers than larger wetlands. ….not only have we drained large numbers of smaller, isolated wetlands, but that the remaining wetlands have much simpler shapes, leading to an extensive loss of wetland perimeter. It has been shown that wetland perimeters provide important habitat for aquatic species and allow for more chemical reactivity to improve water quality. Smaller wetlands also function best as a group, forming an interconnected “landscape mosaic” which provide unique habitat and safe breeding grounds for species such as salamanders and migratory birds. As described in another recent paper by Basu in the journal Bioscience, these small, geographically isolated wetlands act like landscape filters, preventing excess nutrients, sediments and contaminants from entering larger waterways. Unfortunately, many restoration efforts have focused simply on restoring wetland area, with no consideration of the type or size of the wetlands being restored. “We didn’t expect to see such a strong, preferential loss of smaller wetlands,” says Basu, who is also cross-appointed with Civil and Environmental Engineering and a member of the Water Institute. “It’s not just a local phenomenon. Smaller wetlands are the least protected under most environmental regulations.”


Kimberly J. Van Meter, Nandita B. Basu. Signatures of human impact: size distributions and spatial organization of wetlands in the Prairie Pothole landscape. Ecological Applications, 2015; 25 (2): 451 DOI:

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