January 18 , 2005

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Inland wetlands may be obvious habitats such as freshwater marshes or lake edges; more subtle habitats such as the winding miles of riverside wetlands; and sometimes hard to find habitats, such as the ephemeral ponds of forests, prairies, and glaciated valleys.

They aren't always freshwater habitats: You'll find saline wetlands around the Great Salt Lake and other saline bodies of water. However, for the purposes of our study, we'll discuss inland freshwater wetlands in general, using many examples from the Intermountain West.

This vast region, with its array of terrain—rivers, valleys, mountains, and grassland—provides a living laboratory of inland wetlands. We'll focus on the two types of inland habitats common in this region: riverine and palustrine.

Inland freshwater wetlands differ from coastal/marine wetlands in water chemistry and dynamics. They are not subject to tidal fluctuations or to the extreme wave action of ocean storms. Thus, their vegetation can be more stable, such as shrubs, or less anchored, such as floating plants that have no roots in the sediment. For example, you'll often find mats of duckweed on freshwater wetlands. These plants float on the surface and their roots extend into the water but not down to the sediment.

Freshwater wetlands, just like marine wetlands, serve as nurseries for aquatic animals of all types including insects, muskrat, and trout. And they provide essential habitat for myriad amphibians, birds, and mammals. In addition, freshwater wetlands play an essential role in the availability of water in the arid Intermountain West. By slowing floodwaters or capturing snowmelt each season, inland wetlands retain the water, which then can seep into the ground to recharge aquifers and other sources of groundwater. At the same time, the wetlands vegetation and sediment filter out many pollutants from the water.

Some inland wetlands, such as sloughs associated with rivers, may appear the same each year. The relatively stable climate of mountain valleys allows vegetation in these wetlands to stabilize and reappear year after year. Other inland wetlands, such as prairie potholes, may seem to disappear for most of a decade, only to reappear during wet years. Sometimes, you need to look for more subtle clues to identify these types of wetlands because the dryness of the soil or the present vegetation can be deceptive.

Find out more about the types of inland wetlands we have near us:

What is a Wetland? | Where are all the Wetlands? |
Inland Wetlands | Wetlands for the Future | People and Wetlands |
Classroom Activities | Wetland Facts | Wetland Links |

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