Breath of Clarity

Riparian Ecosystems and Wetland Values

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 wetland ecosystem zones are closely tied to their bordering rivers and streams. They are built and maintained by the fluvial flood pulse (Riparian Wetlands n.d.). Since the wetlands are dependent on seasonal spring and winter flooding, it enables them to be both a nursery and floodwater storage system, while still having dry periods to germinate seeds (Mitch and Gosselink 2015). These wetlands are also influenced by beaver activity, seeps, and snowmelt (Riparian Wetlands n.d.). Further, riparian zones are nutrient rich from annual flooding and flushing. The plants and animals that occupy this zone must adapt to flushing, periods of high water and must be able to keep their feet wet for maybe months at a time (Riparian Wetlands n.d.).

Specifically, forested swamps serve as great nursery environments and flood water storage mechanisms (Riparian Flooding n.d.). Forested swamps are connected to the river channel during spring flooding via old meanders, ponds, and small connecting channels (Riparian Flooding n.d.). During spring floods the fish spawn in the floodplain ponds then return to the river (Riparian Flooding n.d.). The river is disconnected from the swamp during the hot, dry summer but reconnects with fall flooding (Riparian Flooding n.d.). The juvenile fish that have grown up in the ponds then return to the river better able to survive (Riparian Flooding n.d.). There is also a lot of variety in geomorphology of forested swamps. For instance, there are so many types of cypress forests including dome swamps, slow-flowing stands, alluvial river swamps, and lake-edge swamps (Mitch and Gosselink 2015). The grass vegetation in forested swamps can be different from that in other riparian ecosystems. Moreover, forested swamps provide crucial habitat for amphibian and reptile breeding and nutrient consumption (Mitch and Gosselink 2015).

Similar to the variance amongst forested swamps, freshwater marshes differ from each other in terms of hydrology. They are dependent on whether they’re fed by runoff or groundwater, as the former would dry out during seasons with low rainfall while the latter is less seasonally driven (Mitch and Gosselink 2015). Marshes do not only occupy areas adjacent to rivers as forested swamps do, but they also are situated next to lakes. The marshes are specifically beneficial as nutrient absorption areas and carbon sinks. Similar to the other type of wetlands, it is crucial to maintain marshes because they serve as important wildlife habitat.

Evidently, all of the wetland types are reflections of the areas that they are located in. They are all created by consistent presence of moisture and standing water. They differ in that some cases are formed by river deltas while others by glaciers. Still, crucially, they all serve as filtration systems because they remove excess nutrients and sediment.

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.

Mitch and Gosselink (2015) outline 12 major benefits of riparian wetlands. They bring heaps of value to the natural world and ecosystem balance considering that they maintain water quality, reduce erosion, protect from floods and storm damage, provide a natural system to process airborne pollutant, provide a buffer between urban residential and industrial segments to ameliorate climate and physical impact such as noise, maintain a gene pool of marsh plants and provide examples of complete natural communities, provide aesthetic and psychological support for human beings, produce wildlife, control insect populations, provide habitats for fish and spawning and other food organisms, produce food and fiber, as well as expedite scientific inquiry (Mitch and Gosselink 2015). Humans use the land for towns and agriculture. The value of these floodplains to humans is the rich land for agriculture, flat land for towns, and close proximity to surface and groundwater. The floodplains have been drained, rivers channelized and confined with levees, and bottomland hardwood forests harvested (Riparian Flooding n.d.). The conflict comes when humans and rivers need the same land (Riparian Flooding n.d.).

Maintaining water quality makes it so that the wildlife can thrive in its aquatic habitat. That way, humans can continue to see the exotic rare animals that make visits to wetlands extra memorable. The ability for the riparian wetlands to process airborne pollutant also helps return to a state of ecosystem balance in a way considering that the airborne matter would be difficult to detect and process otherwise process. Controlling insect populations is a key benefit of riparian wetlands because without that balancing, the entire food chain would be altered. Additionally, reducing erosion is specifically beneficial to humans who want to preserve the monetary value of their properties. The buffer between residential and industrial areas is also beneficial to property owners who want their land to be appealing to potential customers. The protection from flood and storm damage also prevents people from needing to pay for repairing their building infrastructure. In the face of climate change, extreme weather is increasingly becoming the norm and humans need the riparian wetland carbon sinks to mitigate impacts of global warming. Health of wetlands and human survival have a direct relationship with one another. We are now beginning to understand and appreciate the functions of the floodplain-river-wetland connections to the health of the whole ecosystem rather than viewing them separately (Riparian Flooding n.d.). As one deteriorates, the other does too. As humans decide to manage the riparian zones, their own species also thrives. The truth of the matter is we have to show wetlands have value to humans rather than ecosystem balance to value to humans rather than ecosystem balance to preserve them (Riparian Flooding n.d.). Ducks Unlimited has been successful in this endeavor (Riparian Flooding n.d.). More organizations are imitating the success (Riparian Flooding n.d.).

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

Researchers found that stakeholders involved in the conversion of wetlands likely underestimated their value for conservation, cultural, and recreational purposes (Marazzi et al. 2018). Humans who reside close to wetlands need to comprehend how runoff from fertilizers and other pollutants is dangerous. On top of that, corporations must abide by laws that protect drinking and recreational waters. Moreover, wetland restoration needs to benefit people, including indigenous and non-indigenous communities, and nature in a balanced way that accommodates the diversity of human uses, but also maintains ecosystem function and biodiversity (Marazzi et al. 2018). In general, restoration projects often fail, stall, or underachieve when they (i) narrowly focus on a few environmental, cultural, and socio-economic benefits4; (ii) lack clearly identified or have static targets; or (iii) promise more than what technology, funding, and management options realistically allow (Marazzi et al. 2018). For example, restoration in the southern Everglades has been notably delayed due to competing demands for land and water to support urban development and agriculture for a constantly growing human population and economy (Marazzi et al. 2018). Trade-offs between “getting the water right” and “getting the water quality right” are needed for the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan to succeed at an ever expanding cost that is currently estimated as $16.4 billion (Marazzi et al. 2018). To succeed in restoring as much of the Everglades as possible, a solution to the conflicts between water quality and water quantity targets and between economic interests need to be found and actioned (Marazzi et al. 2018).

By persistently advocating for increased freshwater flows, many forward-looking practitioners, citizens, and organizations are keeping alive the dream of a restored ‘river of grass’ (Marazzi et al. 2018). Overall, a more environmentally sustainable South Florida is needed where, among other changes, reducing food waste and cultivating crops with lower requirements for fertilizers and pesticides could help further improve the quality of water and habitats to the benefit of residents, tourists, and wildlife (Marazzi et al. 2018). By fostering and applying a stronger environmental ethic, water managers, engineers, policy makers, and residents can reduce the collective human impacts on, and restore, the Everglades social-ecological system for society and for biodiversity (Marazzi et al. 2018).

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

The video conveys that when the pioneers first came across the plains, they witnessed a sea of grass cut by ribbons of riparian forest ecosystems, adjacent to rivers and streams (Urban Deforestation n.d.). The video’s mentioning of both the grass vegetation and diverse tree species that exist in a thriving riparian ecosystem aligns with the power point’s mentioning of healthy wetland characteristics. However, the video also explains that, today, much of the vegetation diversity is diminished because of urban development (Riparian Wetlands n.d.). Most of the rivers are engineered to control flooding. Annual flooding still occurs but the amount and duration of the floods are much less than before engineering (Riparian Wetlands n.d.). Engineering rivers allow for rapid flood drainage from channelization (straightening streams) or from channelization (straightening streams) or slowed erosion from drop structures. Evidently, it is to increase efficiency of water collection for resource consumption and use. Moreover, large man-made levees replace the floodplain made levees (Riparian Wetlands n.d.). However, there are aquatic and terrestrial animals that depend on the original riparian ecosystems (Urban Deforestation n.d.). By juxtaposing the video and the power point, it becomes clear that modern day resource management is just maximizing the yield from riparian wetlands by taking it away from conditions that support their longevity.

We need to preserve riparian forests because we don’t want monocultures of only landscape trees (Urban Deforestation n.d.). Humans can not only preserve riparian ecosystems along rivers and streams (Urban Deforestation n.d.). We can also preserve small plots of forest found in open space by making sure they are able to regenerate (Urban Deforestation n.d.). To do so, we can implement policy on a local level or at least work with some local nonprofits to help keep riparian forest systems alive (Urban Deforestation n.d.).


Flanagan, Kathryn. n.d. “Urban Deforestation: EPM 4701”. Video. Accessed July 22 2021.

Flanagan, Kathryn. n.d. “Riparian Flooding”. Powerpoint. Accessed July 22 2021.

Flanagan, Kathryn. n.d. “Riparian Wetlands”. Powerpoint. Accessed July 22 2021.

Marazzi, Luca, C. Max Finlayson, Peter A. Gell, Paul Julian, John S. Kominoski, and Evelyn E. Gaiser. 2018. “Balancing Wetland Restoration Benefits to People and Nature”. Solutions.

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

Comment by Carmen Valencia:

Mary, responding to question 3,

I like how your response touched on inclusionary principles, as you mentioned indigenous communities, diverse human use, and cultural and recreational values. Balancing human needs is impossible without the inclusion of a diverse array of people, as many people have conflicting interests and values. However, by supporting wetlands, managers are also supporting adjacent ecosystems and communities through cleaner and healthier water systems. The Clean Water Act and other regulatory and enforced statutes have made a lot of progress in protecting wetlands over the past 50 years. How do you see this trend progressing in the next 50 years in relation to increased pressures on water systems throughout the U.S?

Comment by Laurel Golden:

Hi Mary,

To Question 2-

I liked your inclusion of airborne pollution as one of the many benefits that wetlands provide. Another method that helps wetlands (I wish I had included in my answer) is using permeable parking lots instead of hardscapes. The permeable surfaces reduce sudden water inputs that might wash bank soil from streams. They also help filter fresh water by trapping solids and sending it back to aquafers for use as drinking water or agricultural irrigation. A vendor site, Permeable Paver Cost – 5 ways to reduce parking lot costs – TRUEGRID ( (Links to an external site.), boasts that in addition to environmental benefits, permeable pavers have savings from installation costs to maintenance costs. The Green Alliance Permeable Pavement – Green Building Alliance ( (Links to an external site.) found that in addition to the water savings benefits, the permeable surfaces also lower surface temperature and reduce the need to construct catchment basins. However, permeable surfaces are best suited for lower volume traffic areas such as parking lots, residential streets, driveways, and sidewalks, patios, and pool decks. These are the kinds of infrastructure changes that can benefit the environment, especially wetlands, and add value to man’s quality of life. Great post.

Comment by Lauren Winter:

Hi Mary,

I loved your very thorough answer to question #2. In particular, your comment about balancing insect populations for the health of the wetland really stood out to me. I haven’t heard or read that as a consideration before (to the best of my knowledge), so I did some researching to find in which cases that would be beneficial. Apparently, this tactic is best utilized on wetlands that have been highly fragmented and isolated. It sounds difficult and expensive to implement, though. “Fully incorporating insect communities into restoration designs may increase the cost of restoration two-to three-fold, but the benefits to biodiversity conservation and the ecological services provided by intact insect communities justify the cost.” (Shuey, 2013) Managers may have a hard time working this into the budget and management plan (it needs to be executed before any other task), but it sounds like it is generally successful when implemented.


Shuey, John. (2013). Habitat Re-Creation (Ecological Restoration) as a Strategy for Conserving Insect Communities in Highly Fragmented Landscapes. Insects. 4. 761-780. 10.3390/insects4040761.

Comment by Professor Flanagan:

Hi Mary, Lauren, Laurel, and Carmen,

One of the problems with wetland restoration is that we still need to understand wetland ecosystems and their complex dynamics. The importance of insects in wetland food webs is just now trying to be understood. Ducks Unlimited just realized the connection of floodplain ponds and their aquatic insect populations to the calcium requirement of migratory water fowl and development of strong eggs in reproducing ducks.

Wetland Management For Waterfowl Handbook (