Swamps, bogs, and backwaters

I will happily tell anyone that my favourite environment is the desert. Dry air, knee-high shrubbery, rocks. Though to be fair, remarkably little soil.

My second favourite environment are wetlands (from one extreme to the other I guess). Though again, I prefer meadows, bogs and seeps to swamp forests and heavily treed places.

Wetlands are places where some very cool soil stuff happens. In places that are wet all year round, or that are wet and cold, you get the formation of peat soils (not to be mistaken for Pete’s Soils). Peat is a delicate substrate made almost entirely from dead organic matter and it comes in a variety of different types. I’m no peat expert, but I can appreciate that it’s a valuable and delicate natural resource.

The stuff I work with at the moment is mineral wetland soils. Which is a polite way of saying mud, muck, scum, goo…. The kind of soil where you sink up to your ankle and it steals your farm boots when you try to escape. To be fair, wetland mineral soils can also be sandy or silty – the stuff of beaches and riverbanks. But I’m working with mud.

Mud is a PITA to work with in soil science. Thankfully I’m working with a neutral to acidic mud, which means it’s the third most inconvenient soil to work with*. But, even though you have to work harder with wet soil, water is the language of life** and where there’s water there’s also chemistry and biology doing their things. Globally, inland wetlands deliver at least Int$27.0 trillion in tangible and intangible benefits1. They host a ridiculous amount of plants and animals and they’re disappearing at a frightening rate2.

They’re cool, they’re valuable, they’re fragile and they’re under threat. What’s not to love about the local bog***?

*The first most inconvenient being any soil collected from a saltmarsh, and the second being any real soil you use for a root experiment.

**A highly successful television campaign in Australia.

***Smells and bugs, usually. Sometimes very big reptiles.

1Davidson, N. C., Van Dam, A. A., Finlayson, C. M. & McInnes, R. J. Worth of wetlands: Revised global monetary values of coastal and inland wetland ecosystem services. Marine and Freshwater Research 70, 1189-1194, doi:10.1071/MF18391 (2019).

2Hu, S., Niu, Z., Chen, Y., Li, L. & Zhang, H. Global wetlands: Potential distribution, wetland loss, and status. Science of the Total Environment 586, 319-327, doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2017.02.001 (2017).