We have discussed many ecosystems over the years playing an important role in the survival of all different living things, from the ground underfoot which provides food and shelter, to the sky and ocean which allow birds to move. The oceans, our largest bodies of water, provide almost everything for us and its inhabitants.
One of our most widespread and threatened ecosystems, it is our precious wetlands which are found on every continent except Antarctica, although recently this has been disproved with underground rivers supporting them the life.
Some of our largest wetlands include Brazil’s Pantanal and the Amazon River Basin. We are familiar with the Everglades, a smaller but equally important wetland that supports both native and unfortunately non-native life, be it plants and ancient unwanted pets.
Many birdwatchers have even visited the Rio Grande Valley river basin, which provides 25% of the water used for public supply and irrigated agriculture, probably more. Waders and other waterfowl as well as water-dependent songbirds are supported by two countries, Mexico and the United States. We are not even talking about migrants from South and Central America. That’s thousands of species only.
It may shock and surprise, but according to the United Nations Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, wetlands are more affected by environmental degradation than any other ecosystem on earth. Wetlands and bees are in dire straits.
For wetland biodiversity, dragonflies have been called the canaries of the coal mine, which is not a good nickname. Dragonflies are very sensitive to environmental changes and adaptations, making them a leading indicator of the overall health of our wetlands. Just look at the list of delisted most endangered species recently named by US Fish and Wildlife, and you’ll find so many that resided in wetlands of some sort.
Wetlands provide ecosystem services that include groundwater replenishment, flood control, plant and animal support, water storage, carbon sequestration (just like our dying ancient forests like North America’s boreal forest), storm protection, shoreline stabilization, nutrients for all life, stormwater diversion, recreation, water treatment and much more.
As the environment warms, groundwater will become more critical to maintaining our access to safe drinking water. It is necessary to prevent groundwater pollution in homes and cities for the proper disposal of chemicals and wastes, as well as agricultural runoff.
Agricultural runoff has created several dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico that cannot support any life. When we add oil spills to the equation, it’s not hard to see that wintering and breeding birds in this region alone are losing critical numbers.
We should be able to coexist with plants and animals, because we all need the same things to have the basics of a healthy life. Without all of our ecosystems, none of us will be able to survive and restore life as we know it.
Deb Hirt is a wild bird rehabilitator and professional photographer living in Stillwater.