It’s World Wetland Day

Today, lakes, rivers, underground aquifers, swamps, marshes, wet grasslands, peatlands, oases, estuaries, deltas, tidal flats, mangroves, coral reefs, as well as fish ponds, rice paddies, reservoirs and salt pans and, as the rain hammers down, also my garden, celebrate World Wetlands Day today.

In 1971 in the Iranian city of Ramsar, a convention was hammered out between international bodies to protect the world’s wetlands. The aim of the Ramsar Convention is:

the conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world”.

to highlight the convention, today is World Wetlands Day, but what is a wetland?

Botswana wetlands
Botswana wetlands. Photo: European Space Agency.

It’s land that’s wet. This might seem a bit simple, but it’s the presence of water that makes it important, but also difficult to pin on one hook. For example rivers are sources of drinking water, but that’s not the only use for wetlands. Mangroves provide shelter for coastlines from storm damage. The Okavango Delta, an inland delta in Botswana provides vital hydration for wildlife. With such a broad definition of wetland it seems almost anywhere could have wetlands, and you’d be right.

Looking at the country profiles on the Ramsar site, they are everywhere from four sites in Albania to seven in Zimbabwe. What surprised me most was seeing forty-one sites listed in Tunisia. It shouldn’t have, in an arid country wetlands are obviously going to be vital, but even so, when I think of my time in Tunisia I don’t think of a land known for its lush verdant countryside.

Ironically, the ubiquity of wetlands makes tracking down specific papers about them more difficult than you’d expect. The study of plants in wetlands isn’t so much a cornerstone of botany as a substantial chunk of the building. For example the Open Access journal AoB PLANTS has a number of special issues based around wetlands. Plant Responses to Low-Oxygen Environments (free) looks at how plants respond to waterlogging and Physiology and Ecology of Halophytes – Plants Living in Salt-Rich Environments (free) examines how plants tackle salt water. There was also a Halophyte Special Issue in Annals of Botany (free). In addition from 2010 Annals of Botany had an issue with a section on Plant adaptations and microbial processes in wetlands (free)

It’s not just an AoB obsession. New Phytologist has an issue on the Amazonian Rain Forest and drought, which highlights how important water management is for wetlands. The challenges for plants in wetlands are covered in Plant anaerobiosis Those issues is free access too.

If a whole issue is a bit too much to take then I’ll highlight one paper from AmJBot: Effects of salinity and flooding on post-hurricane regeneration potential in coastal wetland vegetation. Wetlands can act as an important buffer in hurricane strikes, but what happens after the hurricane has passed? Beth Middleton argues that the intrusion of even a small amount of saline water into a wetland can change what germinates and regenerates and what does not. That seems to be an echo of the Ramsar Convention’s central message that water management is critical for environments and the people who don’t want to be pummeled by the weather in them.