Wild About Wetlands- Part 3: If You Build It, They Will Come

In my recent blogs, Wild About Wetlands and Wild About Wetlands- Part 2, I discussed the beauty and importance of wetlands and I introduced a man-made way to implement wetlands into areas, such as stormwater retention basins, where wetland plants would not normally grow in order to improve water quality while providing aquatic habitat. Last year was our first attempt at growing and caring for floating wetlands, and after a few initial bumps in the water (nuisance geese and fishing lure entrapments), our pilot season ended up being a huge success! The wetland mat floated from May through October in a stormwater retention basin at the City of Westlake Recreation Center which also acts as a fishing pond for locals. Near the end of October after stream and wetland restoration work was completed at North Royalton Farms, the mat was pulled from the stormwater retention basin and the plants were transported to their permanent home in newly constructed riparian floodplain wetlands. Our summer watershed intern and I also attracted the attention of Channel 3 NEWS which landed us a segment on Betsy Kling’s Girls In STEM.

While my co-workers and I were pulling the plants from their mat cups and trimming the roots to a more manageable length to plant into the ground, I noticed an ecosystem of aquatic invertebrates living in the roots. Dragonfly and damselfly (odonates) nymphs (larvae), mayfly nymphs, and scuds by the plenty had made a summer home within the roots of these aquatic wetland plants and sedges. I was surprised and ecstatic. Typically, aquatic invertebrates such as odonates and mayfly nymphs live in shallow waters with a high species richness of vascular plants. But after discovering a large amount of these invertebrates living in a 15-feet deep pond that was void of any vascular plants except for my 64 ft floating mat of plants, it seemed to me that I had the Field of Dreams ”if you build it, they will come” scenario playing out beneath my floating wetland. There is a plethora of scientific literature linking floating wetlands to water quality improvements, but these discoveries reinforced my idea that man-made floating wetlands can offer substantial habitat for aquatic invertebrates and fish in environments that are lacking vegetation, shade, and cover protection, signaling to me that there is a real opportunity for cutting edge research to be conducted on floating wetlands in a natural environment-mesocosm type of study.

Moving forward we hope to float and grow more plants in 2020 that we can use to re-vegetate our stream and wetland restoration projects, as well as exploring the potential of collaborating with a university to conduct research on our floating wetlands.

Blog author: Jaimie Johnson, Cahoon Creek - Frontal Lake Erie Watershed Coordinator

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