Researcher makes case for restoring wetlands on agricultural lands

Jun 07, 2013

(Phys.org) —New research by an Indiana University scientist reveals the value of restoring wetlands and riparian habitat on agricultural lands. The study is among the first to demonstrate the water quality benefits of converting farmland back to natural habitats.

A team of scientists, led by Christopher Craft from IU Bloomington's School of Public and Environmental Affairs, measured soil processes such as de-nitrification and phosphorus sorption. Those processes improve by removing from . The restoration of these habitats under two programs administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture helped prevent pollutants from entering local water supplies, Craft said.

The scientists analyzed from restored wetlands and natural and restored riparian buffers (vegetated areas alongside streams). They compared that soil with samples taken from nearby farm fields. All of the land tested was owned by farmers and landowners enrolled in the USDA Wetlands Reserve Program or Conservation Reserve Program. The research was conducted in central Ohio, and an ongoing project in Indiana shows similar results.

Potential benefits of restoration include improved water quality locally and regionally as well as reducing the impact of farm runoff on the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. The dead zone is a large area in the northern gulf where a surge in chemical nutrients flowing out of Midwest farms has been blamed for diminished in the water. That in turn has damaged the fishing and shrimping industries.

The potential benefits of wetland and riparian habitat restoration extend worldwide, Craft said.

"This is particularly important considering that as and agricultural production increase around the world, global nitrogen and phosphorous fertilizer use are predicted to increase significantly," he said.

Craft cautioned that wider participation in the USDA programs and similar efforts in other nations won't yield instant results.

"Benefits from conservation practices may not be noticeable for several years, though they may be more rapid in intermittently flooded systems such as riparian buffers," Craft said.

Natural wetlands have been steadily eliminated since the earliest European settlers in the U.S. began building cities and clearing land for farms.

Craft is the Janet Duey Professor in Rural Land Policy at IU and directs the Ph.D. in Environmental Science Program at IU. He was joined in this study by John Marton from the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium and Siobhan Fennessy from Kenyon College.

Their findings will be included in an article accepted for publication in the academic journal Restoration Ecology.

For more information on Craft's research, visit his Wetlands Laboratory website.

Explore further: Scientist documents wetland losses

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Scientist documents wetland losses

May 29, 2013

(Phys.org) —Wetlands in eastern North and South Dakota are shrinking at a rapid pace, according to professor Carol Johnston of the South Dakota State University Natural Resource Management Department.

Wider buffers are better

Jul 30, 2007

Excess nitrogen caused by fertilizers, animal waste, leaf litter, sewer lines, and highways is responsible for contaminating groundwater. It can also cause human health risks when found in drinking water and oxygen depleted ...

Recommended for you

US delays decision on Keystone pipeline project

Apr 18, 2014

The United States announced Friday a fresh delay on a final decision regarding a controversial Canada to US oil pipeline, saying more time was needed to carry out a review.

New research on Earth's carbon budget

Apr 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —Results from a research project involving scientists from the Desert Research Institute have generated new findings surrounding some of the unknowns of changes in climate and the degree to which ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

China says massive area of its soil polluted

A huge area of China's soil covering more than twice the size of Spain is estimated to be polluted, the government said Thursday, announcing findings of a survey previously kept secret.

UN weather agency warns of 'El Nino' this year

The UN weather agency Tuesday warned there was a good chance of an "El Nino" climate phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean this year, bringing droughts and heavy rainfall to the rest of the world.

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...