Penn State Wetlands Project Seeks Scientific Evaluation Criteria

UNIVERSITY PARK, Penn. -- To most folks, wetlands are marshy ponds with a duck or two floating on the water. To Robert Brooks, associate professor of wildlife ecology in Penn State's School of Forest Resources, "all wetlands are not created equal," and the results of a three-year study of 51 natural wetland sites in Pennsylvania have shown this to be true.

Brooks, director of the Penn State Cooperative Wetlands Center, says Pennsylvania is losing hundreds of acres of wetlands per year to development and other uses. Simultaneously, state agencies, private companies and private citizens are restoring or creating hundreds of wetland acres each year. The project, funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region III, gives agency employees and other professionals specific guidelines to describe and categorize a variety of wetland types, including natural wetlands used as reference sites for researchers and mitigation projects.

A series of assessment techniques to help professionals evaluate restored or created wetlands have been developed during the study. "A wetland is an elusive thing to categorize," Brooks says. "The best way to describe our work is that we are creating a sort of template or blueprint that can best match the characteristics of a certain type of wetland to the site where you intend to replace or restore a wetland."

The project identified 51 sites as reference wetlands and categorized them into types, such as riparian depressions,headwater floodplains, mainstem floodplains, and slope wetlands. At each individual site, characteristics such as plant life, animal life, soil composition, sedimentation and basin shape also were analyzed and categorized.

"The project also extensively researched bird, amphibian and plant species that inhabit only certain wetland habitats --called indicator species," Brooks s

Contact: John Wall
Penn State

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