A new study has created a working model that allows researchers to predict the risk of wetland loss based on featured and characteristics surrounding the wetland.
“Because conservation resources are scarce, it is essential to focus conservation efforts on those geographic areas where the risks for further wetland habitat loss are the greatest,” said Dr. Kevin Gutzwiller, professor of biology at Baylor who co-authored the study with the USFS. “Our predictive model can be used to plan protection efforts by helping to prioritize wetland areas for conservation. The model also can be used to assess the effectiveness of current wetland conservation programs.”
According to government figures, between 1992 and 1997, more than half a million acres of wetland were lost in the United States alone. Of that massive loss, seventy five percent were attributed to development or agriculture, and thus had no link to naturally occurring phenomena.
During this period, the greatest loss took place in the southern United States, home to nearly half of the nonfederal wetlands in the contiguous United States, where the researchers chose to gather the data for their model, and where development was the main reason for the loss of the wetland habitats.
The researchers found that features like road density, land ownership, and proximity of development to wetlands were great indicators of possible wetland loss. Unsurprisingly, there is a higher risk of wetland habitat loss closer to large urban areas, where the risk of expansion is greater as the burgeoning needs of the city grow.
“Wetland fate is thought to be influenced by both local and landscape-level processes, and for this reason, we defined two sets of predictors: local predictors that were derived directly from the National Resources Inventory; and landscape predictors derived from the 1992 National Land Cover Data that characterized land-use and land-cover in the vicinity of wetland points,” said Dr. Curtis Flather, study co-author and research wildlife biologist with the USFS Rocky Mountain Research Station.
“Because of their topographic and edaphic characteristics, highlands are likely to be better drained than are lowlands. Wetlands situated in highlands may therefore be less extensive and more isolated than wetlands situated in lowlands. Although the Coastal Plain and Piedmont regions were characterized as having generally lower risks of wetland conversion relative to the highlands, there are notable areas of high risk interspersed throughout these regions.”