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Wetland Ecology and Science

Wetlands are places on our landscapes where water is close to, at, or above the soil for at least part of the year. Wisconsin has over 5 million acres of wetlands, which cover 15% of our state. These wetlands provide extensive functions such as flood water control, water quality protection, fish and wildlife habitat and recreation for Wisconsinites.

Wetland Functional Values

WI wetland ecology example scene

Every wetland is unique and provides a diverse set of ecological services, called functional values. The functional values provided by a wetland will vary depending on its location on the landscape, land-use history, chemical and biological conditions and its physical components.

Learn more about what functional values Wisconsin's wetlands provide.

Wetland restoration is the practice of adding wetland functional values onto the landscape where a wetland historically existed. Additional information on restoration techniques, resources and funding opportunities can be found on the department's Wetland Restoration and Management webpage.

Types of Wetlands in Wisconsin

WI wetland ecology example scene 2

Wetlands in Wisconsin come in a wide range of types – from shallow ponds to dense forests, from vast meadows to narrow urban drainageways. Wetlands generally come in one of four broad structural types:

  1. submerged or aquatic wetlands which are perpetually covered in water,
  2. herbaceous communities where the dominant vegetation is grasses, sedges and forbs/wildflowers,
  3. shrub/scrub wetlands dominated by short, woody vegetation and
  4. forested communities dominated by trees.
WI wetland ecology example scene 3

Herbaceous, shrub/scrub, and forested communities can all range from very wet with standing water through part of the year to communities that appear dry for much of the year.

To better understand these wetland community types and how to identify them, the DNR Bureau of Natural Heritage Conservation has created community descriptions and a key to Wisconsin’s wetland communities.

Wetland Monitoring and Assessment

The DNR has a wetland monitoring program devoted to monitoring and assessing the quality and condition of the state's wetlands. This effort includes developing new wetland monitoring and assessment tools, developing baseline monitoring and collaborating with other wetland programs like the DNR's wetland regulations staff. The team has developed a suite of tools for wetland assessments and detailed reports about work completed by the Wetlands Monitoring and Assessment team. Examples of these tools include rapid wetland functional value assessments such as the Wisconsin Wetland Rapid Assessment Methodology to the intensive, site-level Timed Meander Sampling Protocol for Wetland Floristic Quality Assessment.

Wetland Invasive Species

Wetland communities in Wisconsin have been invaded by problematic non-native species for decades. To learn more about wetland invasive species identification, invasive species management tactics, or Wisconsin's regulated and non-regulated plants and animals, you can visit the Regulated Species pages. The public is encouraged to report new or spreading invasive species.

To learn more about some of Wisconsin's most common wetland invasive species, visit the following webpages:

Wetlands and Wildlife

Wetlands are an important resource for many of Wisconsin's wildlife species, from providing nesting habitat to providing important food sources. In addition, some of Wisconsin's most cherished recreational pastimes rely on healthy wetlands throughout the landscape to support wildlife populations.

Additional information about wetland wildlife, can be found at the following links: