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: Current residential development research is a poor foundation for sustainable development

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

Study provides detailed projections of coral bleaching

7 hours ago

While research shows that nearly all coral reef locations in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico will experience bleaching by mid-century, a new study showing in detail when and where bleaching will occur shows ...

Germany restricts fracking but doesn't ban it

13 hours ago

The German cabinet drew up rules Wednesday on the hitherto unregulated technology of "fracking" in Germany, narrowly restricting its use, but stopping short of an outright ban.

Life in the poisonous breath of sleeping volcanos

14 hours ago

Researchers of the University Jena analyze the microbial community in volcanically active soils. In a mofette close to the Czech river Plesná in north-western Bohemia, the team around Prof. Dr. Kirsten Küsel ...

Eggs and chicken instead of beef reap major climate gains

14 hours ago

Beef on our plates is one of the biggest climate villains, but that does not mean we have to adopt a vegan diet to reach climate goals. Research results from Chalmers University of Technology show that adopting ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.