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This article contains general information pertaining to all wetlands. For more details, see the specific wetland types, such as bog, marsh, and swamp. For Charlotte Roche's novel see Feuchtgebiete.

A wetland is an area of land whose soil is saturated with moisture either permanently or seasonally. Such areas may also be covered partially or completely by shallow pools of water. Wetlands include swamps, marshes, and bogs, among others. The water found in wetlands can be saltwater, freshwater, or brackish. The world's largest wetland is the Pantanalmarker which straddles Brazilmarker, Boliviamarker and Paraguaymarker in South America.

Wetlands are considered the most biologically diverse of all ecosystems. Plant life found in wetlands includes mangrove, water lilies, cattails, sedges, tamarack, black spruce, cypress, gum, and many others. Animal life includes many different amphibians, reptiles, birds, and furbearers.

In many locations, such as the United Kingdommarker, Iraqmarker, South Africa and the United Statesmarker, wetlands are the subject of conservation efforts and Biodiversity Action Plans.

The study of wetlands has recently been termed paludology in some publications.

Technical definitions

Wetlands have been categorized both as biomes and ecosystems. They are generally distinguished from other water bodies or landforms based on their water level and on the types of plants that thrive within them. Specifically, wetlands are characterized as having a water table that stands at or near the land surface for a long enough season each year to support aquatic plants. Put simply, wetlands are lands made up of hydric soil.

Wetlands have also been described as ecotones, providing a transition between dry land and water bodies. Mitsch and Gosselink write that wetlands exist " the interface between truly terrestrial ecosystems and aquatic systems, making them inherently different from each other, yet highly dependent on both."

Ramsar Convention definition

Under the Ramsar international wetland conservation treaty, wetlands are defined as follows:
  • Article 1.1: "...wetlands are areas of marsh, fen, peatland or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt, including areas of marine water the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six metres."

  • Article 2.1: "[Wetlands] may incorporate riparian and coastal zones adjacent to the wetlands, and islands or bodies of marine water deeper than six metres at low tide lying within the wetlands".

Regional definitions

In the United States, wetlands are defined as "those areas that are inundated or saturated by surface or groundwater at a frequency and duration sufficient to support, and that under normal circumstances do support, a prevalence of vegetation typically adapted for life in saturated soil conditions. Wetlands generally include swamps, marshes, bogs and similar areas". Some states, such as Massachusettsmarker and New Yorkmarker, have separate definitions that may differ from United States federal laws.


Due to their lack of potential financial benefits, wetlands have historically been the victim of large-scale draining efforts for real estate development, or flooding for use as recreational lakes. Wetlands provide a valuable flood control function, but building levees helps replace natural flood controls. Wetlands were very effective at filtering and cleaning water, so to help with the ever increasing challenge of decreasing water pollution (often from agricultural runoff from the farms that replaced the wetlands in the first place), millions of dollars have been invested on water purification plants and expensive remediation measures. The USA came to understand how biologically productive wetlands are, so the USA passed laws limiting wetlands destruction, and created requirements that if a wetland had to be drained, developers at least had to offset the loss by creating artificial wetlands. One example is the project by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to control flooding and enhance development by taming the Evergladesmarker, a project which has now been reversed to restore much of the wetlands as a natural habitat for plant and animal life, as well as a method of flood control.

By 1993 half the world's wetlands had been drained. Since the 1970s, more focus has been put on preserving wetlands for their natural function — sometimes also at great expense.

The South African Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism in conjunction with the departments of Water Affairs and Forestry, and of Agriculture, supports the conservation and rehabilitation of wetlands through the Working for Wetlands program. The aim of this program is to encourage the protection, rehabilitation and sustainable use of South African wetlands through co-operative governance and partnerships. The program is also a poverty relief effort, providing employment in wetland maintenance.

Over 90% of the wetlands in New Zealandmarker have been drained since European settlement, predominantly to create farmland. Wetlands now have a degree of protection under the Resource Management Act.

Ramsar Convention

The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, especially as Waterfowl Habitat, or Ramsar Convention, is an international treaty designed to address global concerns regarding wetland loss and degradation. The primary purposes of the treaty are to list wetlands of international importance and to promote their wise use, with the ultimate goal of preserving the world's wetlands. Methods include restricting access to the majority portion of wetland areas, as well as educating the public to combat the misconception that wetlands are wastelands.



Temperatures vary greatly depending on the location of the wetland. Many of the world's wetlands are in temperate zones (midway between the North and South Poles and the equator). In these zones, summers are warm and winters are cold, but temperatures are not extreme. However, wetlands found in the tropic zone, which is around the equator, are always warm. Temperatures in wetlands on the Arabian Peninsula, for example, can reach 50 °C (122 °F). In northeastern Siberia, which has a polar climate, wetland temperatures can be as cold as −50 °C (−58 °F).


The amount of rainfall a wetland receives depends upon its location. Wetlands in Wales, Scotland, and Western Ireland receive about 150 cm (59 in) per year. Those in Southeast Asia, where heavy rains occur, can receive up to 500 cm (200 in). In the northern areas of North America, wetlands exist where as little as 15 cm (6 in) of rain fall each year.

List of wetland types

See also


Further reading

External links

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