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USA-scale patterns in wetland water quality as determined from the 2011 National Wetland Condition Assessment

  • Trebitz, Anett S.
  • Nestlerode, Janet A.
  • Herlihy, Alan T.
Published Article
Environmental Monitoring and Assessment
Publication Date
Jun 20, 2019
Suppl 1
DOI: 10.1007/s10661-019-7321-7
Springer Nature


Water quality is a central component of ecological assessments but less well characterized in wetlands than other waterbody types. The 2011 National Wetland Condition Assessment, spanning freshwater and brackish wetlands across the conterminous USA, provided an unprecedented opportunity to examine water quality patterns across broad wetland types and geographic scales. Surface water samples were obtained from 634 (56%) of sites visited. Total nitrogen (TN), total phosphorus (TP), planktonic chlorophyll (CHLA), and specific conductance (SPCOND) ranged 4 orders of magnitude across sites and were inter-correlated. Woody versus herbaceous vegetation type was an important classifier, with herbaceous sites having standing water more often and generally higher pH, nutrients, and CHLA. Nutrient ratios spanned a range from P-limited to N-limited in most biogeographic regions, and increasing TP was associated with decreasing TN:TP ratios. Compared to national-scale data for other waterbody types (lakes, streams, marine nearshore), wetlands had generally higher TN and TP but not higher CHLA. Differences among biogeographic regions in water quality were concordant between inland wetlands and lakes, and between marine-coast wetlands and the marine nearshore. Associations of TN, TP, and CHLA to percent agriculture or natural land were stronger for the watershed scale than for smaller concentric buffer scales, suggesting that wetlands are influenced by landuse some distance away. SPCOND was related to landuse in inland wetlands but reflected seawater influence in marine-coast wetlands. Water quality exhibits the same general patterns and responses across wetlands as across other waterbody types and thus can provide a basis for ecological classification and condition assessment.

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