Wetlands

January 18 , 2005

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PALUSTRINE WETLANDS

Palustrine wetlands include all inland wetlands except those along lakeshores and rivers. Generally, they are small in size and shallow. Palustrine wetlands may be connected by surface or groundwater to rivers or lakes; or they may be isolated.

Forested palustrine wetlands occur in areas with abundant moisture, such as in the mountains. In the Rockies, look for them on the west side of watershed divides. For example, forest wetlands occur more frequently on the Idaho side of the Bitterroot Mountains, which receive more precipitation than the Montana side.

When you are driving, you can easily bypass forest wetlands. They feature tall trees, an understory of shrubs or younger trees, and often have plenty of groundcover—similar to the surrounding forests. But if you walk into a forest wetland, your senses will detect the difference. The air is often cooler, the ground damp if not soggy. Ferns and mosses may be abundant, and other understory plants thicker. In Idaho, forest wetlands provide habitat for several species of salamanders, toads, and several frogs.

The Coeur d'Alene salamander exists only in moist forest areas of northern Idaho where rocky areas meet the wetlands.

In the eastern United States, moisture loving trees such as red maple, black gum, Atlantic white cedar, and bald cypress grow in forested wetlands.

In the western United States, look for tamarack, western redcedar, and western hemlock. More open wetlands, such as sloughs, feature many kinds of grasslike plants such as sedges, bulrushes, cattails, and reeds.

Isolated Wetlands
When a wetland is not connected by surface water to rivers, lakes, or streams, it is considered an isolated wetland. Examples include prairie potholes, playas, and vernal pools. Playas exist in the dry country of northern Texas and eastern New Mexico.

Often surrounded by irrigated agricultural land, playas are shallow depressions that hold water usually for only a few weeks or months. During their brief wet period, playas contribute to groundwater recharge and provide essential winter habitat for waterfowl-second in importance only to the Gulf Coast.

Vernal pools, also called ephemeral ponds, typically are wet in the spring after snowmelt or seasonally heavy rains. Their shallow, quickly disappearing waters cannot support fish, thus they provide essentially predator-free breeding areas for amphibians. Some scientists estimate that half of the amphibians in the U.S. breed only in these and other seasonal wetlands.

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