In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Wetland Ecology

  • Introduction
  • General Overview: Books
  • Journals
  • Wetland Classification
  • Wetland Area and Losses
  • Wetland Hydrology
  • Wetland Soils
  • Wetland Succession
  • Wetland Biogeochemistry
  • The Carbon Cycle and Climate Change
  • Water Quality
  • Wildlife and Conservation
  • Invasive Species
  • Wetland Restoration
  • Constructed Wetlands for Wastewater Treatment
  • Ecological Economics

Ecology Wetland Ecology
Curtis J. Richardson, R. Scott Winton
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 April 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 July 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199830060-0220


Wetland ecosystems comprise only 3–5 percent of the world’s land surface, but their unique habitats and specialized and rare species have garnered the attention of biologists for centuries. The use of wetlands in Europe and Asia has a deep history, as draining peat bogs, marshes, mires, and swamps for fuel, timber, and agricultural crops was common practice. The first academic use of the word wetlands appears in Catesby’s 1754 book The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahamas Islands, and early studies of wetlands focused on the distinct flora and fauna found in these ecosystems, with a particular emphasis on waterfowl, fish, or other game. Illustrating this point is the first major assessment and classification of wetlands across the United States in 1956, which is solely based on waterfowl habitat value. Research on wetlands quickly evolved in the 1960s and 1970s to become a distinct subdiscipline of the burgeoning field of ecology. Fueled by the concept of wetlands as “Mother Nature’s kidneys,” and by their potential for cheap wastewater treatment, there was an initial focus on their biogeochemical and hydrologic functions on the landscape, as well as the nutrient removal or transformation services they provided. Research in both Europe and the United States also focused on how plants and animals survived the alternating wet/dry soil regimes wetlands possessed and demonstrated that wide-ranging soil redox conditions were microbial driven and produced either reduced or oxidized chemical ions, often with toxic or altered properties, depending on the presence or absence of oxygen and alternate electron acceptors like nitrate or iron. These findings led to a number of elegant studies focusing on the ecophysiology of how wetland plants and animals survived anaerobic conditions, the presence of toxic chemicals, and saline conditions found in coastal marshes. Since the 1990s, research has focused more on biogeochemical cycling in wetlands, especially nitrogen, phosphorus, and, more recently, carbon flux and storage as it relates to global climate change, as it became understood that wetland soils are globally important stores of carbon and sources of atmospheric methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Thus, global warming effects on boreal and tropical wetlands and continued drainage of these ecosystems worldwide have become a major area of concern, along with the effects of sea level rise on coastal wetland survival. To offset these losses, the fields of wetland restoration and ecologic economics have become increasing relevant.

General Overview: Books

William Mitsch and James Gosselink wrote Wetlands, the first modern textbook on wetlands ecology, in 1986. Now in its 5th edition, Mitsch and Gosselink 2015 captures the field with multiple examples from across the globe. Two other accessible textbooks are Keddy 2010, which emphasizes causal factors that create wetlands and plant community dynamics, and van der Valk 2012, which focuses on freshwater wetlands and key processes controlling their ecology. The multi-authored book Batzer and Sharitz 2014 provides chapters written by experts on the hydrology, soils, biogeochemistry, and habitats of freshwater and estuarine wetlands. Well-written books that emphasize the ecology of specific wetland types include Hogarth 2015 on the biology of mangroves and seagrasses, Rydin and Jeglum 2013 on the biology of peatlands, and Richardson 2008 on how the alteration of the hydrology and nutrient additions affect the ecology and restoration of the subtropical Everglades peatlands. The two books that set the standard for providing the essential background and detailed information on wetlands biogeochemistry and methods are Reddy and DeLaune 2008, which covers the concept of redox chemistry and all the major elemental cycles found in wetlands, and DeLaune, et al. 2013. Kadlec and Wallace 2009, in its 2nd edition, is the foremost volume on the design, use, and construction of wetlands for wastewater treatment. The two-volume Wetland Book (see Finlayson, et al. 2018a and Finlayson, et al. 2018b) is a readily accessible and comprehensive online and print reference that provides updated key concepts in wetlands science and management written by experts in the field.

  • Batzer, D. P., and R. R. Sharitz, eds. 2014. Ecology of freshwater and estuarine wetlands. 2d ed. Oakland: Univ. of California Press.

    This volume provides students and researchers with up-to-date and accessible information about the ecology of freshwater and estuarine wetlands. Prominent scholars introduce general concepts on different wetland types as well as complex topics related to the dynamic physical environments that create these systems.

  • DeLaune, R. D., K. R. Reddy, C. J. Richardson, and J. P. Megonigal, eds. 2013. Methods in biogeochemistry of wetlands. Madison, WI: Soil Science Society of America.

    Modern field and lab methods book written by over one hundred experts in the field of wetland biogeochemistry and sampling. Topics cover soil sampling and methods for water and soil analysis as well as productivity sampling in multiple wetland types.

  • Finlayson, C. M., B. Middleton, R. McInnes, M. Everard, A. van Damm, and K. Irvine, eds. 2018a. The wetland book. Vol. 1, Structure and function, management and methods. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer.

    This volume is an easy-to-follow comprehensive resource that will allow multidisciplinary teams and transdisciplinary individuals to look up terms, access further details, read overviews on key issues, and navigate to key articles selected by experts.

  • Finlayson, C. M., R. Milton, C. Prentice, and N. C. Davidson, eds. 2018b. The wetland book. Vol. 2, Distribution, description, and conservation. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer.

    The second volume in this series, like the first, provides the reader with comprehensive and up-to-date chapters written by experts on the description, location, and conservation of key wetlands worldwide.

  • Hogarth, P. J. 2015. The biology of mangroves and seagrasses. 3d ed. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198716549.001.0001

    This volume provides a current and comprehensive introduction to all aspects of the biology and ecology of mangroves and seagrasses, with a global range of examples and case studies.

  • Kadlec, R. H., and S. D. Wallace. 2009. Treatment wetlands. 2d ed. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.

    The bible on engineering design, modeling, and treatment efficiencies of all major constructed wetland types. It includes multiple examples and test cases to help design and build wetlands for nutrient and ion removal and storage.

  • Keddy, P. A. 2010. Wetland ecology: Principles and conservation. 2d ed. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511778179

    An introduction to wetland ecology organized according to the small number of causal factors that create wetlands and regulate their biological processes: flooding, fertility, disturbance, competition, herbivory, and burial. Later chapters explore the consequences of these causal factors for ecological services, biological diversity, and restoration.

  • Mitsch, W. J., and J. G. Gosselink. 2015. Wetlands. 5th ed. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

    The most popular and comprehensive wetland textbook, focusing on energy flow, hydrology, biogeochemistry, restoration, and creation of wetlands, as well as providing key information on classification, management, laws, and regulations for the United States.

  • Reddy, K. R., and R. D. DeLaune. 2008. Biogeochemistry of wetlands: Science and applications. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.

    DOI: 10.1201/9780203491454

    The definitive volume in terms of presenting a detailed biogeochemical analysis of all the main elementals as they relate to wetland biogeochemistry. Clear presentation of the importance of soil redox and soil microbial interactions as they relate to plant growth and greenhouse gases emissions.

  • Richardson, C. J. 2008. The Everglades experiments: Lessons for ecosystem restoration. New York: Springer.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-0-387-68923-4

    Comprehensive volume that presents results from a decade-long set of ecosystem-scale experiments designed to assess the effects of phosphorus additions and hydrologic alterations on vegetation, macroinvertebrate, and algal communities in the subtropical Everglades. Emphasis is placed on peatland community restoration criteria, based on integrated scientific studies of biogeochemistry, productivity, decomposition, and hydrology.

  • Rydin, H., and J. K. Jeglum. 2013. The biology of peatlands. 2d ed. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:osobl/9780199602995.001.0001

    A modern textbook on peatlands covering their origin, formation, classification, and ecology.

  • van der Valk, A. G. 2012. The biology of freshwater wetlands. 2d ed. Oxford and New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Highly accessible textbook for both graduates and undergraduates that emphasizes the important processes that control freshwater wetland ecosystems and the services they provide on the landscape.

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