Center for Earth and Environmental Science
Indiana University ~ Purdue University, Indianapolis

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Department of Earth Sciences



Value of Wetlands

Wetlands are part of our natural heritage.  They provide many vital physical, ecological, and economic functions and benefits.  These benefits and functions can generally be classified as water resource related, biological and ecological, aesthetic, educational, recreational and economic.  Wetlands are living museums, where the dynamics of ecological systems can be observed and taught.  They are incredibly diverse habitats.  About 900 species of vertebrate animals require wetlands at some time in their lives.  Wetlands provide the principal habitat for virtually all species of waterfowl nationwide, and also for many other birds, mammals and reptiles.  In Indiana, 11 species of waterfowl use wetlands for nesting and 28 species use wetlands as migration / wintering habitat.  Nationwide, nearly 35 percent of all rare and endangered animal species depend on wetlands for survival, although wetlands constitute only 5 percent of the nation's land.  More than 60 wetland-dependent animal species are listed as endangered, threatened, or of special concern in Indiana.  A great variety of plants thrive in wetlands and many are wholly dependent on wetland habitats.  Because so many wetlands have been lost or degraded, there are more than 120 species of wetland plants in Indiana that are endangered, threatened or rare.  People additionally utilize wetlands for activities such as bird watching, hiking, and nature study.  A 1996 survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service suggests that Indiana wetland habitats generate more than a million user days of nonconsumptive recreation each year. 

Wetland Loss

Despite our recognition of the importance and value of wetlands, they are now relatively rare ecosystems in Indiana's landscape.  Statewide analysis by the Natural Resources Conservation Service and Indiana Department of Natural Resources concluded there were approximately 5.6 million acres of wetlands in Indiana circa the 1780ís representing 24% of the stateís surface area. Surveys completed 100 years later during the 1980ís concluded that there are 813,000 wetland acres accounting for only 3.5% of the surface area of the state. These estimates indicate that Indiana has lost 85% of its wetlands and ranks 4th (tied with Missouri) among the 50 states in proportion of wetland acreage lost. The vast majority of the 85% of the wetlands lost was due to drainage for agricultural purposes.  Wetland soils are nutrient rich and valued for growing agricultural crops. 

Wetland Restoration

Wetland restoration is the process of returning an impacted wetland to a more natural state.  Wetlands in Indiana are many times restored by removing the subsurface agricultural tile drainage networks installed by earlier farmers.  These networks move water from the wetland through the underground system to an outfall point, such as a creek or artificial ditch.  In addition to restoring the natural water flow to a wetland, many times native wetland plants need to be re-established and the invasive exotic plant species need to be removed.  The restoration of wetlands increases habitat diversity by providing the plants and structure native animals rely upon for survival and breeding.  Wetlands additionally enhance water quality and curb flooding by acting as natural sponges that capture excess water and filter contaminants.  As a result, wetland restorations improve the ecological function of creeks and rivers as they flow into larger water bodies such as reservoirs, lakes, and oceans. 


Wetland Links and Resources


The Center for Earth and Environmental Science conducts wetland restoration research with numerous community partners.  Visit CEES' restoration research web sites to learn more.

CEES disseminates wetland information to school groups, community groups, and environmental professionals in addition to  presenting research findings at national and international conferences.  Click on PowerPoint Presentations to view information.




Center for Earth and Environmental Science
 School of Science
 Indiana University~Purdue University, Indianapolis
 723 West Michigan Street, SL118
 Indianapolis, IN 46202