This module is about the benefits, or values, that wetlands provide. These values arise from the many ecological functions associated with wetlands. These societal benefits and ecological functions are discussed in detail below, and in some instances resource-specific or site-specific examples are presented. Much of the material was drawn from sources that are cited in the Acknowledgments, References, and World Wide Web Sources sections following the body of the text. Wetlands Functions and Values discussed in this module appear in bold, grey text.
Only relatively recently have we begun to understand the many ecological functions associated with wetlands and their significance to society. Wetlands were once considered useless, disease-ridden places (e.g., malaria and yellow fever) that were to be avoided. We now realize that wetlands provide many benefits to society — such as fish and wildlife habitats, natural water quality improvement, flood storage, shoreline erosion protection, opportunities for recreation and aesthetic appreciation, and natural products for our use at little or no cost. Protecting wetlands can, in turn, protect our health and safety by reducing flood damage and preserving water quality.
Wetlands are among the most productive ecosystems in the world, comparable to rain forests and coral reefs. They also are a source of substantial biodiversity in supporting numerous species from all of the major groups of organisms — from microbes to mammals. Physical and chemical features such as climate, topography (landscape shape), geology, nutrients, and hydrology (the quantity and movement of water) help to determine the plants and animals that inhabit various wetlands. Wetlands in Texas, North Carolina, and Alaska, for example, differ substantially from one another because of their varying physical and biotic nature.
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