Connecticut now has a fraction of the forested wetlands that used to cover the state. Until the middle of the twentieth century, clearing land, constructing roads, building infrastructure and introducing irrigation and drainage systems did not require an assessment or mitigation of potential environmental impacts. Amidst growing concern for wetlands, the US Fish and Wildlife Service conducted a nationwide wetlands inventory in 1954. In the decades that followed, further scientific studies helped raise awareness of the benefits of wetlands for habitat, improving water quality and providing flood protection. The change of public opinion from approving of wetlands use for residential and industrial improvements and landfills towards conservation led to the adoption of legislation throughout the 1960s and ‘70s to safeguard wetlands. The volume of forested wetlands in Connecticut has since remained relatively consistent, with small losses due to natural conversion, typically becoming ponds, and from development projects. The embrace of wetlands research helped ensure the passage of federal and state laws and regulatory controls that stabilized the loss of these important ecosystems.
Forested wetlands are now facing new threats. The application of road salt is salinizing freshwater areas, affecting the ecosystem services these swamps provide. Beth Lawrence, an assistant professor in the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment (NRE) with a joint appointment in UConn’s Center for Environmental Sciences and Engineering, is taking a closer look at the impact of salinization on forested wetlands. Forested wetlands represent over two-thirds of all wetlands in the state.
“The application of road salt and its effects on these swamps are an emerging issue of concern,” says Lawrence.
“The aim of my research is to better understand and quantify the numerous ecosystem services forested wetlands provide. My focus is on how plant community composition, carbon storage and carbon dynamics are affected by salinization. I’m also looking at the effects of experimental road salt applications. We know that wetlands benefit people in a variety of ways, but we do not have a good understanding of the capacity of these ecosystem services and how their functioning may be impacted across environmental gradients,” says Lawrence. (more…)