Thursday, September 02, 2010

To restore instead of create

Frankly, there is no one besides the author of The Terrestrial Natural Communities of Missouri himself who can so effectively and succintly capture the intricate workings of Missouri's native ecosystems with the written word. Many have tried, and many more--like myself--have failed to cover all the bases, to not only describe the facets of a natural community that we see, but to deftly, and in 200 words or fewer, to explain the disturbance factors and natural history that gave rise to our rich natural heritage. "I know a natural community when I see it" doesn't really cut mustard, does it.

Nevertheless, because I am well aware of my own shortcomings as a technical writer, I offer a few paragraphs from the book, a few short words that answer the question, both briefly yet comprehensively, "what is a wetland?"

Wetlands are natural communities resulting from saturation by surface or groundwater, which create hydric soil conditions favoring the development of hydrophytic vegetation. Wetland soils are characterized by anaerobic conditions during the growing season due to water inundation. Wetland ecosystems typically have a wealth of biological diversity and biogeochemical cycles quite different from uplands.

Plants and animals living in wetland natural communities have evolved specific physiological and behavioral adaptations to deal with fluctuating water levels and flooded conditions. Missouri's wetlands include some of its most diverse and productive ecosystems. Nearly half of Missouri's vascular plant species are associated with wetlands. Hydric soils typically support obligate wetland plants....

Six abiotic factors influence wetland plant composition and structure: hydroperiod, soil, climate, fire, water chemistry, and hydrological regime. Hydrology is of paramount importance to the functioning of wetlands....Missouri wetlands are subdivided into four major systems: riverine; sinkhole ponds; groundwater seepage; and springs and spring branches based upon the dominant hydrology and landforms in which the wetlands occur. These major systems reflect differences in the genesis of and the physical and hydrologic differences between individual wetland communities.

So, in these brief snippets of text from the book, we can gather that wetlands are complex systems that cannot be created overnight. Considering that in the Ozarks we have hundreds of acres of channelized and otherwise destroyed fens, springs and spring branches which were altered to create water sources for homesteads, development in watersheds that impedes natural flooding cycles, and countless other human-caused impairments to Ozark wetlands, one would have hope that in this age of promoting natural ecosystems, some of these past alterations would be corrected. Everyone likes a good wetland restoration project!

Functioning wetlands that serve all forms of wetland flora and fauna cannot be created in the middle of an old field with a bulldozer blade. Japanese stiltgrass likes this sort of soil disturbance, as does sericea and other well-known invasive plants. The Ozark Highlands are rich with damaged fens and riverine systems in need of restoration. Go there to do the work to serve entire ecosystems, not the middle of a fescue and sericea-filled pasture that will never contribute much but a tire rut filled with water for breeding American toads.

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