Our Carbon, Our Wetlands, Our Future

Carbon cycles around the biosphere. It may be stored as fossil fuel, then burned and released to the atmosphere, incorporated into plants or soil, dissolved in water, etc.

A couple weeks back, the United States Government issued a report on the threat posed by Global Climate Change. It made a lot of important points, but unfortunately much of the message was drowned out by reporting on President Trump’s unwillingness to fight, prepare for, or even acknowledge the threat of climate change. Lest you imagine the report as ramblings of tree-hugging, granola-munching, nature freaks…rest assured, the report is interdisciplinary and a collaboration, and focused on the threat to the health and well-being of the American people. And that threat is considerable.

Why think about a threat to the American people and society when contemplating climate? A little historical perspective might be useful, before we head to the swamp…

We’ve had climate change before, and it was incredibly disruptive. For example, a major immigrant group in the USA are those of Irish descent. A major factor in Irish emigration to North America was The Great Hunger (so-called potato famine) of the mid-1800’s. That event was the result of a fungal pathogen (blight), as is widely-known. Less-known is the contribution of climate: cool, wet conditions—and flooding—aiding the spread of the disease. This great human disruption, and all the historical ramifications, is due at least partly because of meteorological conditions.

More recently, an All-American diaspora happened with the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s. As the name implies, great clouds of dust (wind-blown soil) blackened the skies and blanketed the cities of the East. This resulted from poor agricultural practices, but was triggered by an intense drought. It was mainly residents of the Great Plains affected, but also Iowa. And our nation was forever changed by this event—socially, economically, politically.

All in all, it’s obvious that climate disruption leads to disruptions of human society, too. Those examples are two of many around the world, localized or regional, demonstrating the danger of climate change; we would be wise to take heed.

We have transformed the Iowa landscape (such as at the abandoned town of Owego, seen here). We have also transformed the carbon cycle with our land use and technology…but the change to the atmosphere is not visible.

Our science has improved steadily over decades, helping us understand the contribution of human activity to a changing climate. In short, we ARE changing the chemistry of the atmosphere (by adding carbon to it), and we know the increased carbon concentration changes the climate—to become warmer overall, but with many variations in effects, especially locally severe events. I have added my name to a series of statements about climate change, the most recent (2018) calling for buildings and other infrastructure to be designed with climate change in mind; we need to prepare for what climate change will do…or rather, is doing. (It’s no coincidence that the press conference was held in downtown Cedar Rapids, site of devastating flooding).

Now to the wetlands! Swamps, marshes, fens, and the rest—they affect, and are affected by, climate.

  • Wetlands store carbon, especially in soil or undecomposed organic material (peat), such as the spongy layer in a fen. Preserving intact, functional wetlands keeps that carbon locked up, and continuing growth adds more stored carbon.
  • Wetlands store water, a valuable service to lessen downstream flooding. (Climate change will mean more severe weather events, and worse consequences).
  • Climate change will impact biodiversity, so preserving the few remaining Iowa wetlands—in good condition—is even more important. Rare, threatened and endangered species of animals and plants are found more frequently in these wet habitats than might be expected by the area wetlands cover.
Will climate change increase the risk of fire in ecosystems? It is a likely scenario.

What will climate change do to Iowa wetlands (or those in other places)? And what will our wetlands do to the climate? I’d like to explore those questions further. One important consideration might be decomposition processes: the decay of organic matter (such as tissues of dead plants) and the subsequent return of carbon to the air. I recently did a little trial run using the Tea Bag Index and shared with my Ecology class. It might be fun and useful to follow up on this in the future, including “tea bags” of a more traditional design: plant tissues from local sources placed in mesh bags (fashioned from window screen). Understanding wetland decomposition could provide useful insights into global carbon dynamics.

Two other recent episodes in my Ecology class also come to mind. This week, we are talking about chemical cycles in ecosystems—including the carbon cycle—and as we look at a box-and-arrow diagram in the textbook, I like to remind students that real ecosystems don’t exist in boxes—they are connected to the rest of the biosphere. Energy, water, chemicals, and even organisms move in, out, and through ecosystems, all the time. And we would be wise to remember our connections with the Earth’s ecosystems.

Also, we had a special visitor in class last week. Derek, a former student now employed by Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, came to recruit summer interns. Even better, as he described that worthy organization, he made a point of distinguishing what they do—stewardship—with the more typical idea of land or natural resource “management.” Indeed, we really should recognize that our predecessors bequeathed us a beautiful, life-filled planet to enjoy and be nurtured by. And we should care for, then pass along, a healthy Earth to those that follow us.

The Society of Wetland Scientists has asked us, the membership, to reach out beyond our group, reminding everyone of the significance of wetlands in climate change. We are asked to encourage you to take measures to address our shared carbon problem. Consider this blog post an invitation. What can we, together, do to raise awareness, and to help us work towards solutions?

Our actions now, will shape the environment for centuries. Let’s work to make a brighter future!

Teatime For Wetlands

DSC_0546An exciting trend in recent years, is the “citizen science” movement. Scientists invite the public to collaborate on research, and everyone wins: scientists have more data, everyone else becomes engaged (maybe even excited??) about science, and together we grow our knowledge about Nature. I’m a big fan, regularly participating with my students in Project BudBurst (timing of seasonal events in plants) and Frogwatch (amphibian monitoring), and others from time-to-time.

At Barber Creek Wildlife Management Area in in eastern Iowa (Clinton County), I participated as a “citizen scientist” following the protocol of the Teatime for Science. The idea is brilliant in its simplicity: weigh and then shallowly bury tea bags, dig them up after three months, dry them and weigh again. Natural decomposition processes cause the tea to lose weight, with that weight loss being affected by factors in that specific environment. Two different teas are used, a fast decomposer (Green tea) and a slower one (Red tea). Comparing decomposition over time, and in sites around the world, helps us understand this important aspect of the carbon biogeochemical (matter) cycle.

Tea bags as “decomposition detectors” or “global carbon-cycle meters?” EXCELLENT.

DSC_0548Barber Creek is a State Wildlife Management Area, so I contacted the local Department of Natural Resources officer for permission and  he provided useful advice as well (thanks Curt!). The site includes several deeper ponds (likely, old oxbows) near the Wapsipinicon River, bottomland floodplain forest, and several shallow marshes on higher ground (perhaps farmed in the past, or surrounded by farmed ground). One of those isolated marshes is a recent addition, the Bruckman wetland. That habitat seemed easily accessible, and had characteristics similar to two other wetland sites (Brush Creek in Jasper County and Nishna Bend in Shelby County) also used for this tea experiment.


As I found in my touching tale of deer-aided work at Brush Creek, the transects and holes with buried tea bags may be difficult to relocate after the requisite 90 day period in the field. “But Paul,” you say. “Didn’t you use GPS to locate your holes/bags and also the ends of the transect?” The answer is “No,” because I had no reliable signal (a problem I have also frequently encountered with cell phone coverage in rural Iowa). I used old-fashioned reckoning with landmarks: sketch a diagram lined up with reference points like a nesting platform in the center of the wetland, and a utility pole or building. It’s not ideal, but it works well enough. I was indeed able to find my transect after 90 days.

DSC_0544Unfortunately, hydrology is variable…and the transect was under deep water when I returned. I couldn’t find and dig the individual holes and buried tea bags. In the end, I had to walk away from the site, and “write off” the tea bags and data they represent. The thing is, this the research protocol has a 10-day window during which the bags are relocated and retrieved, and my return visit was near the end of that window of opportunity. So, the bags—what’s left of them—are still out there. This sort of thing happens a lot in research (at least, MY research). For every “Eureka!” I shout, there are 100 grumbles or face-palms. Even with a well-established, user-friendly protocol, difficulties appear. At some of my sites, I found the hole (and marker), but not the buried tea bag. Or, the tea bag was torn (can’t get an accurate weight—write that one off). Or and animal or plant infiltrated the bag; again, discard that one. And on and on.

But I shouldn’t complain. This was a “pilot study;” I wanted to know if I could obtain the tea at all (found an overseas vendor who will ship to USA), find places to work (yes, several), habitat characteristics and specifics, and various other practical considerations. And I learned a lot from this; I am considering doing more of this in the future (with some alterations to the method).

Later today, my BIOL 229 (Ecology) students will submit answers to questions about this experiment. It’s fun to use real-life field work, even if only a small pilot study, in my class. We actually compared decomposition (weight loss of tea) in the two wetland sites and two upland sites. I entered the data into a statistics program (MINITAB) and compared results using Generalized Linear Model (GLM) with associated post-hoc tests. I can’t go into details now (must let the students work out own interpretations!) but here’s a box plot and stats table for you to enjoy. Later I can make a comment and share my interpretation.

Also, next week, I will share some thoughts on what tea decomposition tells us about changing carbon dynamics in wetlands, and why that process—or similar action anywhere on Earth—is so very important. It is the environmental, indeed societal, challenge of our time. Be sure to stop back and hear all about it. Thanks!

What Ding Taught Me…

Unknown author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
A giant of Iowa wetlands, Jay N. “Ding” Darling, came to Pella’s public library last week…sort of! Actually, the actor Tom Milligan performed a one-man play (The Art of Conservation: A Visit with Ding Darling) in character as Ding, followed by Q & A about this noted artist and conservationist, as well as Tom reflecting on his acting craft. This is part of a Humanities Iowa series of performances bringing historical figures to life. It was a lot of fun, and I especially enjoyed learning about this Iowan who did so much for wetlands and for conservation overall. In some ways, Ding is a predecessor to this blog, and frankly many of the Iowa wetlands I visit wouldn’t exist today without his efforts. You can learn more details about Ding by reading an Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation blog entry here. Suffice it to say, he was more than an amazing (Pulitzer-Prize-Winning) political cartoonist. Ding did ground-breaking work for wetlands, and showed us how to do the same. Let me describe some valuable lessons I learned from Ding Darling.

Look Honestly At The Situation

I see hints of sentiment in Ding’s work, and he certainly had a streak of idealism. But he was a keen observer of the people around him, and the conditions of the land and the body politic, and he was ready to paint an honest picture of what he saw. In his cartoons, he called out Iowa’s terrible roads and poor government agricultural policies and other challenges of rural life. And no politician, great or small, was beyond his criticism or ridicule. He faced all the challenging issues of the day.

And he was in the right place at the right time to see a breathtaking transformation: a landscape converted, before his eyes, from a diverse native grassland to an intensely-cultivated, citied “breadbasket of the world.” In particular, he personally witnessed the squeezing out of the last pockets of native ecosystems—the lower, wetter spots—being accomplished with haste and fervor. Ding recognized the alarming disappearance of waterfowl associated with this activity, and took up the cause of saving and restoring the wetlands, and protecting their feathered life.

I hope that we, today, can be similarly clear-eyed and honest about the problems we face, and what it will take to meet our own challenges.

DSC_0250Partner Up

Ding was also realistic enough to understand that saving the waterfowl and wetlands would take a group effort. Attending conferences, meeting wildlife biologists, approaching VIPs, and lending his name to worthy efforts was a start. Helping found or foster new groups like More Game Birds in America Foundation (later called Ducks Unlimited) or the National Wildlife Federation, was important to aid communication, coordinate the work  and to built enthusiasm.

Surrounding yourself with like-minded folk was a good start, but Ding reached out to government agencies and their leadership. Frankly, it was difficult: the Federal government had a Bureau of Fisheries and the Bureau of Biological Survey within the workings of the Agriculture bureaucracy, whose philosophy and procedures were misguided at best; and an office too small and disorganized to accomplish the work. So Ding, against his better judgment I imagine, took on a reorganization into what we now know as the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), with much success. He led the agency, reporting to an ultra-liberal Democrat (FDR) while Ding himself was a conservative Republican (and good friend to Herbert Hoover). So, it appears that Ding found a way to work with government, and political adversaries, in a productive partnership.

Saving the wetlands will require trained workers, and a system for identifying and cultivating the talent. So Ding worked with a preeminent wildlife biologist and educator, Aldo Leopold, in his efforts. Ding also looked in his own back-yard, reaching out to the leadership at Iowa State College (now Iowa State University) to create a program for educating our future environmental professionals.

I’ll give myself a mixed review on the task of partnership—I surely enjoy teaching our students, and take pride in their subsequent successes. But today more than ever, it’s important to find productive ways to work with government, private landowners, conservation organizations, the media, educators…we must team up to complete the work Ding started, to write the next chapter in Iowa’s wetland story (and give it a happy ending!). I’ll try harder to make that happen…and I hope you’ll join me.


You’ll Need Money!

Let’s be honest: useful knowledge, willing partners and good intentions will only take you so far. We need to invest funds in these efforts. Ding realized that, of course, and donated his own money to worthy conservation causes, and encouraged others to do the same. Beyond that we also need to reach for the public purse.

Even though his political instincts worked against it, Ding nevertheless realized that taxes raised and spent on worthy public programs was necessary. He believed studying and protecting our wetlands was one of those worthy endeavors. Ding worked the political machinery to get funding for the new USFWS so that it could accomplish its work—because an agency existing on paper alone was useless.

Challenging stakeholders to financially support the cause was also key. Several ideas for taxes (such as on ammunition) to fund wetlands conservation were proposed; Ding instead supported a more direct appeal: hunters would simply pay a fee to fund work providing for their sport. Thus, the Duck Stamp was born. And the very first stamp featured artwork by none other than…Ding Darling. It’s quite beautiful, isn’t it?

1stDuckStamp (1)
The first ever Duck Stamp was designed by Ding Darling!

Art Makes Things Better…

The Duck Stamp is a fine example of Ding’s artistry. Famous for his political cartoons in newspapers, Ding’s political and social commentary is regarded highly. But his cartoons also included environmental themes, encouraging us to notice and protect our natural resources…including, of course, wetlands.

Art can also be richly symbolic, and Ding understood this power, using it to support the cause. He personally designed one of America’s great conservation icons, the Blue Goose logo for the USFWS. Its clean lines and sense of movement are modern and evocative; the subject matter says “we care for wildlife.” The logo looks great on letterhead, or a shoulder patch, or a sign along a refuge boundary. It’s just really, really good design.

OK, here’s the thing: I’m no Ding Darling! But I, and you, should enjoy art too. We all need art in our life! So take some creative photos at the fen. Sketch the cattails and red-winged blackbirds at the marsh. Write a poem about your walk through the floodplain forest. I’ll keep loving these Iowa wetlands, and encourage you to love the wetlands wherever you are. And while you’re there, take a moment to think of Ding Darling and his legacy. You’ll be honoring that legacy.


Rollin’ on the River

DSC_0020Let’s talk about The Big Muddy, The Mother of Waters, The mighty Miss…in other words, the Mississippi River. Steeped in history, vital to our Nation’s commerce and defense, and the eastern border of the State of Iowa. We’ve visited the river before on our 99wetlands journey, such as when we thought about how the river threatens the remarkable burial mounds of Native American/First Peoples. We pondered the river’s role in The War of 1812 which indirectly led to Federal protection of wetlands. In this blog entry, we visit the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish refuge. It is nothing short of remarkable: a migratory bird flyway of global significance, a Ramsar site, a vast watery complex spread across four States (Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin…and of course, Iowa) and absolutely huge, encompassing nearly a quarter-million acres (100000 hectares).

Obviously, that’s way too much area to properly explore in this short post. I will provide a brief glimpse by way of my visit to a couple sites in Jackson County. However, if you ever have the time…a nice drive along the Great River Road, or even a cruise on the water itself, would be an amazing adventure!




My first stop was the town of Sabula, Iowa’s only island-city; it was completely surrounded by the river when navigation and flood control improvements (lock-and-dam system) was installed in the first half of the 20th century. This short video by canoeists on a Mississippi River voyage is fun, and shows a bit of the town. It is small, and bordered by water and wetlands, including Refuge property. I chatted up a local resident who made the whole “island life” thing seem rather ordinary; perhaps because highway bridges connect to both Illinois and Iowa, it’s not really so isolated. She did confirm that many tourists come through, and that some are interested in the wildlife in the wetlands. Plenty of opportunities to fish, photograph, hunt, and just enjoy the water, including as docks, jetties, and picnic sites.

If you look at aerial imagery, or a map, you quickly understand that the wide floodplain is a mix of small islands representing sand or gravel bars forming the braided channel on the floodplain. Some islands are treed, others covered in marsh vegetation, others may be bare mud. The water levels and ecology of the system are dynamic, representing the combined action of the river flow (coming down from Minnesota, and the many tributaries feeding the river) as influenced…more or less regulated…by the series of Locks & Dams, each dam forming a pool. So, in fact, this is now less a river, and more a series of reservoirs.

It’s definitely a working system. The locks allow commercial traffic, most notably the barges joined together en masse and pushed along by tugs, mile after mile. House boats, speedboats, patrol craft, even replicas of old-time riverboats (see photo above). Along the river is a really busy rail line and numerous sidings and yards, and modes of rail/shipping combined facilities.

DSC_0011Among it all, fish swim, birds fly, and life goes on. The backwaters and island swamps and marshes in particular teem with wildlife. A great place to watch is just north of Sabula, at Green Island Wildlife Management Area. The drive up from Sabula offers twisting roads with elevation changes; at times you get a glimpse out over the floodplain. Driving down into Green Island WMA is like entering a major river delta, or vast glades. I saw birds like Common Gallinule among beautiful lush vegetation. Egrets and swans hid out in the Hibiscus, Lotus, Smartweeds, and Buttonbush. It’s a spectacular wetland wonderland.

These wetlands, and the organisms living there, are intimately connected to the river. This is true every day of course, but dramatically so during significant floods, most recently in 1993 or 2008 when this area would have been inundated: the peak flood stage was 22.5 feet and 21.5 feet, in those respective years. But these marshes are well-adapted to floods. Our cities? Not so much. Unfortunately, evidence suggests the floods are worse, and more frequent, with about 75% of the increase due to human alterations of the river. It’s worth remembering that wetlands help absorb floodwaters, and even help lessen downstream flooding, a fact I’ve discussed numerous times already in this blog.DSC_0007

But today, I drive along the roads in the floodplain, among the marshes, yet dry and passable. I climb the rise above the floodplain, looking back at striking views. It’s a treat to see the river and its wetlands from bridges and bluffs and twisting roads. It’s truly a journey through a unique landscape: a working industrial waterway with barges passing by and trains and docks and industry; wildlife flying and swimming all around; verdant islands and marshes; and of course, a wide, rolling river…one of the world’s greatest. Come visit some time.


A Wetland For All Seasons

DSC_0631Scotch Grove Prairie in Jones County has a small, constructed wetland, described in my Sportsman’s Atlas as a “seasonal wetland.” My initial, sarcastic question was “what ecosystem is it outside of wetland season?” Of course, the label almost certainly refers to seasonal inundation: the system only has standing water in Spring, after snow melt and April showers flood the site. A solid earthen dam likely holds back a sizable volume, flooding deep and wide, leading into the growing season. No doubt waterfowl and wading birds make use of the spot, at least most years.

But I visited in late summer. No standing water, just a small patch of mud at the deepest spot. What value is there, in a wetland that’s not wet??

DSC_0632Plenty, as it turns out. Let’s start by looking closely at that mud. It is criss-crossed by deer tracks, and the soft grassy vegetation is flattened where they’ve bedded down. I suspect the animals feed in the corn field or browse on the woods nearby, but they like to hang out here, for the soft bed or the sheltered spot or other reasons known only to the deer.

DSC_0636Growing from the dried, cracked mud I found a small, bright yellow wildflower. Looks like a mustard, perhaps Bog Yellowcress, Rorippa palustris. Undoubtedly a wetland plant, one I’ve seen elsewhere growing this way, taking advantage of exposed mud. Note this photo shows an individual growing amongst grass, and their blades are present in the photo near the blossoms. The flower’s own leaves are farther down, hard to see here. It’s a pretty little plant, surely enticing pollinators and supporting a food chain.

Speaking of food chains, I was surprised to find grasshoppers jumping around in the tall vegetation. Some might be caught in the spider webs I also encountered. I hesitate to suggest these small animals are characteristic of wetlands, but they are surely found there, at times. Part of a lively ecosystem.

DSC_0626More stereotypical of wetlands, no doubt, are the Wood ducks I might have found earlier in the year. The nest boxes stood empty, but the trees nearby are no doubt active throughout the growing season…so leaf-out to leaf-drop is their season.

Perhaps the church and its graveyard put me in a mood, but I kept thinking about wise, ancient words: “to everything, there is a season…and a time for every purpose under Heaven…” The crayfish burrowed in the mud, the fungi growing through the matted fallen leaves, the birds who left feathers behind on the nesting mounds…they all know it: a wetland is an ecosystem for all seasons.


A Dragonfly for Halloween!

halloweenHappy Halloween! In honor of the holiday, I present a Jack-O-Lantern of an insect, the Halloween Pennant (Celithemis eponina). This beautiful orange-brown Dragonfly was photographed near a pond at Nishna Bend county park, Shelby County. I found this example of a “mosquito hawk” buzzing around (likely actively feeding on other insects,) but I was fortunate to have one perch long enough for a photograph.

That’s some striking coloration! Should have been easy enough to identify, but not for me—not in my area of expertise. A fun lesson of this blog is that we have a network of fellow naturalists, kind and generous and authoritative. I’ve made corrections (or, clarifications) to some of these blog entries as those more knowledgeable than I have helpfully suggested I take another look at my ID or help me better understand the biology I was observing. Really, the naturalist community are fine people. Faithful reader John V has written me about the blog, and when I approached him about this dragonfly, he was pleased to help. You can find some of his other contributions on Buguide.net and much other cool stuff, too.

Unlike the Halloween frights, my fellow naturalists aren’t scary at all, as it turns out. Well—maybe just a little? I present a bit of dramatic taxidermy from the nature center at Nishna Bend:


And the displays included other flora and fauna. Some of it is almost artistic in the aesthetic, such a fish montage featuring local species:


Know what else might be found at the Nishna Bend wetlands? Osprey! This is a theme from earlier blog posts: “what is a wetland species?,” more complicated than might be at first supposed, because wetlands support, directly or indirectly, many organisms. So perhaps a bluebird or an owl can be a “wetland species.” In a similar way, the Osprey flies around the wetland, and may find tasty fish in the water. The workers at Nishna Bend have thoughtfully provided a nesting platform in case the birds like this wetland well enough to settle down and raise a family!


I admired the ecological habitats and the educational displays, but let’s not forget that wetlands can be beautiful, and let’s appreciate that too. On the high ground overlooking the wetlands is a patio with a stunning view. On a hot summer day, months ago, I admired the vista with a cold drink and an appreciation for another great Iowa wetland. Thanks for visiting with me!



Fall Colors in the Wetland?

Pond on the Central College campus. Color change of trees, some have dropped leaves. Can you see the Great Blue Heron on the left side of the island?

My local hardwood (deciduous) trees are undergoing fall color change. Local trees are glowing gold, ablaze in red, and even a few have a purple color. It’s strikingly beautiful. Since I teach a bit of botany, I feel compelled to talk about this in class, and I also encourage students to keep track of the color change and the dropping of the leaves. And today, I ask you: why do the trees do this? And, would wetland trees differ from the rest? Read on!

The basic idea is explained well enough on-line: trees drop leaves in preparation for winter, when weather renders those leaves a dangerous liability. Some pages describe the chemistry of the colors and even show photomicrographs of leaf tissues. The traditional understanding is that leaves contain chlorophyll, a green pigment which is most visible to us most of the time; but chlorophyll fades, revealing other colors from “accessory pigments.” But about a decade ago, another part of the story was described: certain red or purple colors—anthocyanins—are specifically produced this time of year as a sunscreen, protecting leaves from UV light damage; this helps trees hold onto the leaves longer. Synthesizing anthocyanin is a chore, but is worth it, because doing so allows the tree to recover nutrients from the leaf before leaf they drop.

Of course it’s only “worth it” to synthesize anthocyanins and recover nutrients, when nutrients are scarce. If nutrients are plentiful, why bother? And that study compared floodplain trees (where nutrients are plentiful) with nearby uplands (where nutrients may be limiting to tree growth). And sure enough, floodplain trees were less colorful (specifically, levels of anthocyanins). So, we might expect other floodplain wetlands to be less-colorful (at least in certain colors).

DSC_0237I thought about this when I recently visited the Nolan Addition (Fuller Addition??) in Keokuk County (near the borders with Iowa and Washington counties). The site was beginning to show autumn color, and I had a pleasant walk, despite high water making it tough going down on the floodplain. I did see signs of fall color, but…the colors were a bit lacking, frankly. To what extent was I ahead of the fall color peak? Maybe a bit, although I did see color in uplands nearby. I’d guess that, as predicted, this floodplain wetland was less colorful, because the trees had plenty of nutrients available.

Colorful or not, I enjoyed my walk…seeing a story written in the scene around me. The recent agricultural past was still present in signs of water control (drainage, levees). The flooding of the nearby English River was very recent, and much of the low area was wet (inundated)—a floodplain wetland doing its job! Good thing, too-lots of rivers running high all around at this time. Anyway, the smell was musty, vaguely fishy; the vegetation was covered in some spots by deposits of silt left behind when the water was even higher.

I enjoyed a little color here and there, even if some of it was on ground just a little higher than the floodplain; for example, Sumac (Rhus) produces a blazing scarlet in Fall, and always catches my eye. The low ground had plenty of Birch (Betula) and Cottonwood (Populus)  another deciduous tree.

DSC_0228A floodplain wetland receiving nutrients from its stream is natural and normal, and although it may dim the colors this time of year, it is something really important to us all. Nutrients deposited and retained in a wetland, are not flowing downstream to cause water quality problems. Watch for future posts about this topic, oh-so-crucial to Iowa. In the meantime, I encourage you to get out and see those lovely Fall colors. Enjoy!