Breath of Clarity

Comment #1: Definition of Wetlands

Original Post by Hannah Claycomb:

1. The textbook states “Wetlands are seldom self sustaining systems.” They interact intermittently with neighboring ecosystems (aquatic or terrestrial). Can you think of an ecosystem with distinct boundaries? Discuss an example of the interaction of wetlands with their adjacent ecosystems from places you have visited.

Ecosystem boundaries are going to overlap more often than not, including aquatic and terrestrial. The ecosystem simply does not occur alone. The presence of flora and fauna in every ecosystem is dependent upon numerous variables within that specific ecosystem, like temperature, humidity, etc. Ecosystems with pretty distinct boundaries are those in caves. Cave ecosystems suggest clear cut biotic and abiotic happenings within the ecosystem.

I live in Pittsburgh and the one wetland I love to visit is Wingfield Pines. This wetland was basically destroyed by deep and strip mining in past practices. It was bought by the Allegheny Land Trust 20 years or so ago and was restored back to its natural state. This wetland sits a little south of Pittsburgh and acts as a detention pond for Chartiers Creek by holding water and preventing flooding. Due to the damage mining brought to the wetland, there are still contaminated waters present. Environmental scientists around the area designed a passive water treatment system (dependent on gravity) that mitigates iron oxide contamination flowing into the creek. This wetland now supports various forms of wildlife. Below is a picture I recently took while visiting the wetland.

2. What is the connection of “Ducks Unlimited” to wetlands?

Ducks unlimited is a private organization that is geared towards the conservation of wetlands and waterfowl populations (Mitsch and Gosselink 2015, 22). According to their website (Links to an external site.) they are the world’s leader in wetland and waterfowl conservation. Starting in 1937 when a drought severely decreased waterfowl populations, sportsmen created Ducks Unlimited (DU 2021). Their main mission was centered around habitat conservation, so what better way to conserve habitats than to restore and protect wetlands.

3. Why do you think there is so much confusion and controversy over the definition of a wetland?

Wetlands are extremely diverse in many senses. The particular flora and fauna present in wetlands, abiotic characteristics, the amount of water contained in a wetland, and the different seasons’ influence on wetlands are all changing and fluctuating with every wetland that is observed (Mitsch and Gosselink 2015). So I can see why it would be difficult to determine a clean cut definition for a wetland when there are so many indicators. Also taking into account the different definitions persuaded to fit different agendas, whether that be for an ecologist, biologist, political scientist, economist or lawyer, each definition is molded differently pertaining to occupation (Mitsch and Gosselink 2015, 42). Adding to the confusion, there are wetland terms that have different meanings in different countries. For example, here in North America a wetland with mainly herbaceous plants is referred to as a marsh, whereas in Africa it is called a swamp (Mitsch and Gosselink 2015, 33). So universally, a sound definition of a wetland would be strenuous.

Ducks Unlimited. 2021. About Ducks Unlimited. (Links to an external site.)

Mitsch, William J. and James G. Gosselink. 2015. Wetlands. 5th ed: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.

My Comment:

Hi Hannah (Question 2),

Thanks for providing insight into the founding of Ducks Unlimited. It reveals habitat conservation plays a strong role in generating funding for wetland conservation. Conservationists can definitely leverage the Endangered Species Act to support wetland preservation. It reminds me of a specific project that The Nature Conservancy (TNC) conducted in purchasing 253,000 acres of the Appalachian Mountains. The purchased forestland is called the Cumberland Forest Project and is located in the central region of the Appalachians which is a globally significant biodiversity hotspot. Rare populations of species such as salamanders and elk reside in the region and the land also serves as a corridor for species to move from south to north as the climate warms and habitats shift. Being able to illustrate the specific conservation benefits in terms of biodiversity is key to preserving a space. Additionally, the purchase implements sustainable logging and forestry to generate income as the properties are enrolled in California’s carbon offset market which allows the project to generate revenue by recognizing the carbon that is stored in the uncut trees. I admire the way the project illustrates economic gain can go hand in hand with decisions that also sustain ecosystem balance.


Elliston, Jon. “Cumberland Forest Project,” October 31, 2019. (Links to an external site.).

Hodgman, Tom. “Impact Fund of the Year: The Nature Conservancy’s Sustainable Forestry Fund.” Environmental Finance, June 30, 2020.