Technical information for this article supplied by our friend and colleague, Bernie Kerkvliet of Skyland Ponds in Lake Arrowhead, California.
What is a Wetland?
Ecologically speaking, it is known as an Ecotone. An Ecotone is a transition zone between two diverse communities. It contains organisms native to each overlapping community, as well as organisms characteristic to the Ecotone itself.
In a wetland, life is very dense and variable. Every ounce of water from a wetland environment contains millions of organisms that make up a highly diverse community.
The Plantonic community includes algae or phytoplankton, zooplankton, and bacteria. Together, they are the plants, animals, and scavengers of this unique, aquatic ecosystem. The scavenger-like plantonic bacteria, along with fungi, clean up the corpses, wastes, and organic debris present in the water. The algae transforms sunshine and inorganic nutrients present in the water into food so it can grow and reproduce. In a nutshell, the bacteria, fungi, and phytoplankton all feed on impurities in the water and clean it as it flows thru the wetland. These are the base consumers of the ecosystem, or the base of the food chain. The amazing thing is the phytoplankton and bacteria can produce another generation in a matter of hours to days. Pretty cool, huh?
Simply put, the phytoplankton represents the grass and herbaceous plants in a meadow. The zooplankton which are protozoans, rotifers, and tiny crustaceans are the animals that feed on the plants in the meadow (Phytoplankton).
This basis for the food chain in turn provides food for insects, fish fry, larvae, etc. Aquatic plants also get their nutrients from the water and decomposing sediment in the wetland. The food chain continues to grow to include larger fish, frogs, reptiles, and eventually mammals and birds.
What do Wetlands Do?
Wetlands are also good for slowing the water down. In a constructed wetland, we accomplish this by the size of pump supplying the wetland. Slowing the water down allows for sediment to settle out. In nature, after hundreds, or even thousands, of years, sedimentation continues until a meadow is formed. The sedimentation process prevents soil from washing downstream. Since the water is almost stationary, it allows water to percolate down into the water table.
In a constructed wetland, the nutrient rich sediments are periodically pumped out on to the surrounding landscape.
The sedimentation process in both cases produces water clarity.
Wetlands, whether natural or man-made, are the most effective water purification systems on earth.
Where do Wetlands Come From?
Wetlands can be created in many ways. They can be built by rivers in slow moving waters and deltas that create wetlands. Lakes and landlocked basins can develop into wetlands, as well.
Aquascape has developed a very effective arificial wetland system that is very effective. Whenever water filtration is required, we prefer to use a constructed wetland if possible. This does require a bit of extra room on the property, but the results are well worth it – and it’s pretty!
One of the best ways nature has for building wetlands, man has destroyed in multiple ways. The best natural builder of wetlands is the beaver. All the industrious work the beaver has done in the northern hemisphere, man has slowly destroyed all in the name of two things: a hat and “progress. “ We hesitate to go too far into the history of the fur trade and beaver felt hats that became so popular in Europe, but the fact is that’s what started it all. But let’s fast forward to a little more current time in North America.
The total land area in the contiguous United States is 2.96 million square miles. It is estimated that there were some 200 million beavers in the US at the time white man came from Europe. It is also estimated that there were about 300,000 square miles of beaver ponds at that time. Can you imagine the benefits that brought to the land? Better plant and animal biodiversity, slow moving water meant better water percolation and recharge in the water table, flood control, clear unpolluted water -- and those are just some of the macro benefits.
What Can I Do AS JUST A HOMEOWNER?
In the pursuit of fur, hats, farmland, industry, and “progress,” our land is not what it used to be. That is why the work that we do is so important. Each pond, pondless, patio pond, fountainscape, stream, and waterfall we build creates another little island of biodiversity in our individual private back yards.
The bonus is that it also creates ambiance to help us decompress, to bring us back to nature after being “plugged in” all day, to teach our children about the nature world, and to use this natural world to teach a multitude of other subjects from biology to math to art to music, and beyond. And then there’s just the pure enjoyment of a backyard oasis – something that takes minutes per week to maintain, but provides hours upon hours of simple pleasure.
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Curl up with a Good Brook!
Who doesn't love to hang out next to a babbling brook? It's such a soothing and relaxing sound! Sometimes, a waterfall is just too much sound if you have a quiet little yard. And maybe you don't want a pond for whatever reason. A re-circulating disappearing pondless stream is a great landscape idea!
Backyard Design Ideas for Streams
Streams are SO versatile! Here is just a small list of benefits to landscape ideas for streams to "wet" your appetite:
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For more great backyard landscape ideas, check out our friends at Planted Well!
Save the (fill in the blank)!
Saving natural habitats is hot on everyone’s mind these days. Riparian habitats are the rarest type of habitat in North America. The plants and micro-organisms found in riparian areas and natural wetlands are extremely efficient at removing excess nutrients from storm water and runoff. Unfortunately, man’s increased use of commercial fertilizers creates run-off extremely high in nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, which poses a major threat to the delicate ecosystems of our natural waterways. As a result of this, as well as excess traffic and use, 95% of the West’s best filtering habitats have been degraded to at least some extent.
Phoenix Ponds with Wetlands Replenish Disappearing Natural Wetlands
What exactly makes a wetland such a good filter, even for a backyard pond? Wetlands are giant sponges. They protect ponds, lakes, rivers, streams, and aquifers by filtering out wastes and nutrients entering from storm water and runoff. Scientific studies have found that many common species of aquatic plants have the ability to uptake toxins directly from the water, thus scrubbing it clean again. This can even be accomplished in a backyard pond!
Thinking of aquatic plants as the kidneys of the earth, it follows then that a constructed wetland filter would be an excellent approach to cleaning up an existing problem pond, as well as an outstanding way ensure that a backyard pond has plenty of filtration from the start, while providing a lush, beautiful setting.
Wetlands are Nature's Filter
Clarity is one of the easiest and fastest ways to diagnose water quality in a backyard pond. Large loads of sediment and debris can have a serious impact on the aquatic life that a body of water can support. Wetlands, both in nature and constructed for backyard pond filtration, do a tremendous job of reducing sediment and debris, improving clarity within the pond. Natural wetlands are able to remove sediment by slowing the velocity of storm water, causing the sediment and debris to drop out of suspension. To see this concept in action, visit Regents of Scottsdale Apartment Complex, 15555 N. Frank Lloyd Wright Parkway, Scottsdale, Arizona. This riparian ecosystem that spans the center of the complex accepts runoff from the surrounding parking lots. Over the past six years of this system’s existence, the maintenance required has been quarterly bacteria and enzyme applications, along with monthly thinning of aquatic plants from within the streams
Phoenix Ponds Thrive with Wetlands!
A constructed wetland filter of proportionate size can help provide crystal clear water in almost any backyard pond. We’ve all seen the chemically treated, generally blue-dyed, bodies of water that adorn many golf courses, apartment complexes, and HOA common areas. Furthermore, backyard ponds with a lot of large fish require a filtration system sufficient to keep up with the wastes these fish produce.
On another note, many people have “green thumbs” and are attracted to the types of plants that can be grown in a backyard pond. Installing a wetland filter off to the side of a backyard pond will provide the perfect planting bed for a variety of aquatic plants, while allowing the garden owner to keep the pond surface area open for viewing.
Wildlife Appreciates Phoenix Ecosystem Ponds
In addition to being a superb filter system, placed appropriately, the permanent and accessible organic water in a backyard pond is a boon to birds, both native and migratory. 80% of desert wildlife lives within sight of a riparian corridor. However, we have been damming and pumping our riparian areas out of existence here in Arizona. Constructed wetlands, and organically maintained backyard ponds, may be the best bet for the survival of many species of native and migratory bird life. In terms of economics, Arizona is a top ten birding destination on every birder’s list, and birding is a $2.5 billion a year tourism industry. Arizona’s share of this money in is huge! Adding a constructed wetland filter to a backyard pond not only adds a truly “green” element in every sense of the word, but provides a safe oasis to native and migratory birds, whether in the open desert, on a golf course, or in someone’s back yard.