A Bountiful Harvest

by Carol Petrow

IMGP0032Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on nature’s bounty … and wetlands are among the nature’s most productive ecosystems.  The productivity of wetlands is comparable to coral reefs and rain forests and can be thought of as a “biological supermarket.”  They provide great volumes of food that attract and support a wide variety of species ranging from microbes to mollusks to man.

Scientists refer to the dynamic relationships among organisms in the wetland environment as food webs that involve many species of plants and animals.  Here’s how they work:

Dead plants break down in water resulting in small particles of rich organic material called “detritus.”  Detritus feeds many small aquatic insects, shellfish and small fish that are food for larger predatory fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals.

Dining on pollen and nectar from flowers, fruits such as elderberries, blueberries, and cranberries, seeds, leaves, twigs, stems, bark, and roots of wetland plants, wildlife get needed carbohydrates, protein, fats, and vitamins in their diets.

Man is among the species that “shop” in wetlands for foodstuffs. Wetland ecosystems are key contributors to a broad range of wild and cultivated food for people world-wide. Wetlands and their resources, supply us with fish and shellfish, leafy vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts, rice, and more.

IMGP0175Can you imagine “shopping” in wetlands for your Thanksgiving dinner?  We’re talking about a large selection of organic, healthy, locally grown foods.  It might not be the traditional fixings but it would be a meal to remember and give thanks for.  I’m thinking paella made with wild rice, fish and shellfish, mushrooms, a salad of leafy greens tossed with seeds and flower buds, and for dessert – a dish of baked mixed berries topped with nuts and sweetened with syrup made from the sap of red maples.

Healthy wetlands provide good quality food to support healthy communities. That productivity depends on sustaining healthy coastal and inland wetlands and ecosystems.  To keep the rich harvest coming, we need to protect and restore our nation’s wetlands.


About the author: Carol Petrow is the Acting Team Leader of the Wetlands Science Team in the Environmental Assessment and Innovation Division, Office of Monitoring and Assessment.

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