Plant and Animal Diversity in Wetlands

Wetlands are important for protecting biological diversity. Their high productivity provides abundant food, and the water provides an important added resource. Hence, wetlands often have large populations of animals and wading birds. The Camargue in Southern Europe, for example, is considered to be the European equivalent of the Everglades. Both have species of wading birds such as storks and flamingos (Figure 9). Large numbers of other kinds of species including fish, frogs, salamanders, turtles, alligators (Figure 10), crocodiles, and mammals require flooded conditions for all or at least part of the year. If the wetlands are drained, all of the species dependent upon them will disappear.

All wetlands, however, do not support the same species. Often, as already noted in the section entitled 'Disturbance', small differences in water level or nutrient supplies will produce distinctive types of wetlands. Hence, wetlands that are variable in water levels and fertility will frequently support more kinds of species than wetlands that are uniform. Along the Amazon River floodplain, for example, different kinds of swamp, marsh, grassland, and aquatic communities form in response to different flooding regimes, and each has its own complement of animal species. In the Great Lakes,

Figure 9 Marshes provide essential habitat for many kinds of wading birds including flamingos, Jurong Bird Park, Singapore. Courtesy of Corbis.
Figure 10 Alligators are one of the many species that benefit from protected marshes such as the Everglades, Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, Florida, USA. Courtesy of Paul Keddy.

different flood durations similarly produce different types of wetlands, from aquatic situations in deeper water, to marshes and wet meadows in shallower water. Some types of frogs, such as bullfrogs, require deeper water, while others, such as gray tree frogs, require shrubs.

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