Breath of Clarity

Comment #1: Riparian Ecosystems and Wetland Values

Original Post by Hannah Claycomb:

1. Compare and contrast the hydrology, function, and geomorphology of riparian ecosystems with forested swamps (like cypress) and freshwater marshes. Discuss the hydrology …geomorphology ..and function of each one of the wetlands separately first. Then discuss their similarities and differences.

Riparian ecosystems with forested swamps: These ecosystems are influenced by flood pulses, with flooding in the winter and spring, and a dry season in the summer months. These swamps are “open” to river flooding and other inputs of mineralized water (Mitsch & Gosselink 2015, 384). These ecosystems are found along rivers in in mesic climates all over the world (Mitsch & Gosselink 2015, 373). They can also occur in arid and semi-arid climates. Vegetation adaptations of these swamps include knees, adventitious roots, and wide buttresses due to the longevity of standing water. Primary productivity relies on hydrologic and nutrient conditions within the wetland. Pulsing hydrology supports a more productive ecosystem (Mitsch & Gosselink 2015, 401). Floodplain tree growth is maximized where flooding occurs more regularly.

Riparian ecosystems with freshwater marshes: These ecosystems are influenced generally by overflowing and flooding rivers. Wet season is during the spring and winter, with the dry season in the summer. They are most commonly found in temperate regions around the world. Hydrologic functions within this ecosystem absorb water when flooding occurs, and releases water during the dry season. This in turn mitigates flooding and drought occurrences (FWS 2017). These wetlands are also high in productivity (Mitsch & Gosselink 2015, 358). Common vegetation include reeds, grasses, shrubs, and rushes.

Both of these wetlands’ productivity mainly depends on hydrology (Mitsch & Gosselink 2015). Flood pulsing is important to support each biodiverse area within the wetlands. Fish spawning and seed dispersal is a direct result when adjacent rivers flood. Vegetative composition is dependent upon the hydrology of these wetlands. Most vegetation in both ecosystems need to be water tolerant due to the long presence of standing water. Flooding from adjacent rivers also decrease the buildup of sediment and bring in needed nutrients. These ecosystems have specific soil and soil moisture that is impacted by nearby rivers and streams (Mitsch & Gosselink 2015). They form linearly along with the adjacent flowing water due to the large fluxes of energy and sediments from upstream systems (Mitsch & Gosselink 2015, 373). Differences occur in vegetation type and hydrologic characteristics.

2. Make a convincing argument for the preservation of riparian wetlands using their value to the natural world and ecosystem balance … then discuss their value to man’s quality of life.

The preservation of riparian wetlands is crucial due to the establishments of biodiversity and health to the environment they provide. These ecosystems impact numerous other unique ecosystems around them, including humans. In the natural world, riparian ecosystems support many unique wildlife with providing food, protection, and shelter. Riparian vegetation also supplies plants, fish, and other animals with optimal light and temperature (USDA 1996). Fish spawning is permitted due to flood pulses that occur within the riparian zone (Flannagan 2021). This allows fish to hatch without the presence of predators; this increases the chances of young fish to grow well into adulthood. Riparian zones are usually nutrient rich with persistent flooding and flushing of sediments, allowing for plant growth to succeed, directly impacting the entire food web of the ecosystem. Flood pulsing also increases species diversity and biological productivity, as well as enhancing survivability of many organisms (USDA 1996). Leaf litter from the wetland can travel adjacent to the wetland into the stream or river, or it can travel downstream and provide nutrients to surrounding ecosystems.

Riparian ecosystems are important to human ecosystems as well. Without these riparian buffers, flooding and erosion would increase, directly effecting residential and commercial areas (Mitsch & Gosselink 2015). These ecosystems also donate water to soil in the happening of a drought. Riparian ecosystems naturally filter water, improving freshwater quality. These ecosystems also eliminate nonpoint source pollution through vegetation uptake and reducing sediments (USDA 1996). Riparian ecosystems can also serve as a beautiful scenic area with recreational activities like hiking.

3. How can we better live with wetlands? – or in a more sustainable fashion keeping wetland and human needs in balance.

We can better live with wetlands through increased education and activism. Humans need to understand the vitality of wetlands why they are important to the environment and overall life. I was shocked to read that wetlands were regarded as “wastelands”, “mires of despair”, and “homes of pests” (Mitsch & Gosselink 2015, 478). To think that governments historically supported the drainage/removal of wetlands is absolutely ridiculous. We need to appreciate these ecosystems and the services they provide. Through education, people will have the knowledge to provide insight on the importance of wetlands and why they need to be protected/preserved.

We can also better live with wetlands if we treat them in a holistic fashion. Holistic management of wetlands will optimize productivity for nature and for human needs. Anthropocentric views and practices surrounding wetlands needs to be halted and a more biocentric/ecocentric view on management needs to take place. This can be tied with agriculture, industrial practices, and urban development. These processes can be engineered in a more interconnected way, involving the protection of ecosystems while increasing productivity elsewhere. This involves government and state assistance with developments.

4. View the video and discuss some of the characteristics of riparian wetlands found in the video with those discussed in the power points.

This video was very eye opening to the condition of wetlands around heavily populated communities. I live in Pittsburgh and my relative just bought a Ryan’s Home, which are houses that looked very much like the ones in Professor Flannagan’s video. They all look about the same and are in a tight community in the suburbs, with a lot of monocultured vegetation with no regeneration. There are about 50 houses in the development and it was once a large forest. It is saddening to see so much deforestation occur so humans can expand development.

The video mentioned that in the past, riparian zones were wide and narrow dependent on the hydrology of the stream systems. There were also trees such as cottonwoods, willows, and shrubs like chokecherry. Human engineering is the cause to the loss of these riparian wetlands, due to flood control or agricultural purposes. My favorite takeaway is the regenerative nature of these ecosystems and why it is so important to preserve them now. We might not be able to recreate life in a riparian wetland that was once so full. Very informational video, I really enjoyed it!

Flannagan, Kathryn. 2021. ““Riparian Flooding”.” Wetland Ecology and Management. Lecture, Accessed July 27.

Flannagan, Kathryn. 2021. “Urban Deforestation.” Wetland Ecology and Management. Lecture, July 26.

Mitsch, William J., and James G. Gosselink. 2015. Wetlands. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.\

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. 2017. Riparian Marshes.,help%20prevent%20floods%20and%20droughts (Links to an external site.).

USDA. 1996. “Riparian Areas Environmental Uniqueness, Functions, and Values.” Natural Resources Conservation Service.

My Comment:

Hi Hannah (Question 3),

Great outlook in terms of emphasizing that humans need to understand why wetlands are important to sustaining life. I also appreciate the post brought up taking a holistic approach to wetland management. I found another article that builds on that point. It explains that Indigenous knowledge systems (IKSs) can, and do, contribute to natural resource management in Australia and elsewhere (Pyke et al. 2018). However, cross-cultural NRM and scientific research usually emphasizes particular components of IKSs, rather than engaging with the value of an integrated complex IKS (Pyke et al. 2018). Focusing on two case studies of Aboriginal groups in the Kimberley region of northwestern Australia, the authors presented a conceptual framework that represents how IKSs can manifest as a system of wetland management (Pyke et al. 2018). The framework depicts how beliefs, knowledge, and practices are inter-related, forming a meaningful and organized approach in which indigenous Bardi Jawi and Nyul Nyul people historically managed, and aspire to continue managing nearby Customary Law-inherited wetlands (Pyke et al. 2018). Further, the framework presents a meso-scale representation of IKSs that highlights four management principles: custodianship, respectful use, active maintenance, and learning (Pyke et al. 2018). They, then, describe how affinities for these principles, versus other indigenous groups, can also be discerned (Pyke et al. 2018). By interpreting the framework to support indigenous wetland management and services to ecosystems within active cross-cultural work, IKSs guarantee benefits for both people and ecosystems.


Pyke, Michelle L., Sandy Toussaint, Paul G. Close, Rebecca J Dobbs, Irene Davey, Kevin J George, Daniel Oades, Deborah Sibosado, Phillip McCarthy, Cecelia Tigan, Bernadette Angus, Elaine Riley, Devena Cox, Zynal Cox, Brendan Smith, Preston Cox, Albert Wiggan, and Julian Clifton. 2018. “Wetlands Need People: A Framework for Understanding and Promoting Australian Indigenous Wetland Management.” Ecology and Society. Vol 23: 3. Accessed July 29, 2021.