COLUMBUS, Ohio A 15-year experiment in an outdoor "laboratory" on Ohio State University's campus shows that naturally colonizing wetlands can offer just as many, if not more, ecological services as will wetlands planted by humans.
Researchers at Ohio State have been comparing the behavior of two experimental marshes on the campus, one that was planted in 1994 with wetland vegetation and another that was left to colonize plant and animal life on its own. The 2 -acre marshes are part of the Wilma H. Schiermeier Olentangy River Wetland Research Park, a 30-acre complex that functions as a "living laboratory" in ecological science.
After year 15, the two wetlands contained nearly the same number of plant species, and their rates of retaining phosphorus and nitrates nutrients that can become potential water contaminants were almost identical. Both wetlands also hold carbon in their soil, with this carbon sink function increasing steadily over the years.
Plant productivity and greenhouse gas emissions were two ways in which the wetlands differed at this stage in their lives: The naturally developing wetland produced more plant biomass and emits more of the greenhouse gas methane, the latter because it contains more decayed organic material from the higher biomass production. Bacteria that produce methane during that decaying process cause wetlands to release the gas into the atmosphere.
"These experimental wetlands have enabled us to start new ecosystems from scratch. You don't get to do that very often," said William Mitsch, an environment and natural resources professor at Ohio State and director of the wetland research park. "I consider these two wetlands after 15 years as standards. If people who create wetlands compare them to ours and find them to behave in the same way, then their wetlands are in pretty good shape."
Mitsch presented the 15-year wetland report Friday (8/6) at the annual meeting of the Ecologic
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Ohio State University