Is there anything wetlands can’t do? 

Written by: Courtney Leermakers 

If you follow Adopt-A-Pond (AAP) on Facebook or have read some of our other blog posts, you may be aware that we monitor and protect reptiles and amphibians in Rouge National Urban Park (RNUP), and that we often mention wetlands. Today, let’s take a step back and answer the question: what are wetlands and what services do they provide for humans and wildlife?  

Wetlands are areas that are seasonally or permanently covered by shallow water, making the soil waterlogged. There are four main classes of wetlands: marshes, swamps, bogs, and fens. These are further divided into two categories; those that accumulate peat (partially-decomposed organic matter), called peatlands and more nutrient rich waters, called mineral wetlands. Both bogs and fens are peatlands, where the surface water quality is generally poor and this is reflected in finding specialized flora and fauna that can tolerate these conditions. This includes species like the pitcher plant, which are carnivorous plants. Being carnivorous in these environments is advantageous, as otherwise the plants cannot get all of the nutrients they need from the surrounding soil or water. Mineral wetlands consist of marshes and swamps. These wetlands have standing or slowly moving water that are rich in nutrients, creating a diverse habitat. 

Pitcher plants are carnivorous and have modified leaves to trap prey like insects and salamanders, and are filled with digestive liquid to break down these food items.  

Wetlands provide many services including water filtration (they are known as “earth’s kidneys”), diverse habitat, spawning grounds, biodiversity, and shoreline protection. Additionally, wetlands, especially peatlands, naturally store carbon from the atmosphere, making them important climate change regulators.  

A Canada Goose and some Painted Turtles basking in a wetland habitat. 

These services provide many benefits including: improved water quality, habitat for many wildlife species, recreational activities, and preventing flood damage. Wetlands not only provide value through ecological services, but add aesthetic value to the landscape. Our wetland technicians can attest: there is nothing more serene than observing a wetland.  

One of our Field Technicians, Courtney, showing CALL interns how we track the Blanding’s Turtles in a wetland habitat. 

Here in Ontario, wetlands are home to many species of plants, invertebrates, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and mammals! Over 20% of the province’s species-at-risk are dependent on wetlands. These flora and fauna use wetlands as migratory pitstops, habitat, and spawning/nesting. 

During the summer, AAP Field Technicians practically live in wetlands, tracking the head-start and adult Blanding’s Turtles twice a week! Our work is predominately involved in working around mineral wetlands, i.e., marshes and swamps. Blanding’s Turtles prefer shallow bodies of water (aka Wetlands!), with large networks as they may travel between connected water bodies during the active season. By kickstarting the recovery of Blanding’s Turtle populations in urban wetlands, we are helping increase biodiversity and function in wetlands. This is because turtles act as the janitors and caretakers of the wetland, by eating decaying organisms! Additionally, providing and protecting habitat for Blanding’s Turtles ensures that this habitat is available for the many, many other species who depend on wetlands.  

We are also involved in Western Chorus Frog (WCF) monitoring in the RNUP. This season we placed acoustic monitors near ephemeral (temporary) wetlands to identify the location of the at-risk WCF within the RNUP. During breeding season, they are the first to emerge in early spring and can be found in ephemeral wetlands calling, and during non-breeding season in summer and fall they can be found in marshes, woodlands and meadows near breeding sites. Frogs are important for wetlands because they use both aquatic and terrestrial habitats at different life stages, which cycles nutrients between landscapes. In addition, frogs are good indicators of wetland health because they are sensitive to habitat degradation, they are important food sources for predators, and help control invertebrates’ populations (bye bye, mosquitoes!).  

One of the adult Blanding’s Turtles we track, Clementine, who utilizes wetlands as her primary habitat. 

As you can see, it is important to protect wetlands as they provide many ecological services and habitat for wildlife. You can help by visiting/educating yourself on wetlands, volunteering at events to restore wetlands (i.e., removing invasive species), and bringing together stakeholders to protect wetlands at-risk of development.  

If you visit a local wetland area or park, be sure to report any frog or turtle sightings to the AAP app. For more information visit, Adopt-A-Pond-Citizen Science. To learn more about the work Adopt-A-Pond does to protect and restore wetlands, check out our website for identification guides and stewardship resources (Adopt-A-Pond Resources).