Story County: Colo Bogs

This wetland complex in far eastern Story County give me an opportunity to talk about the terms we use for the various types of wetlands, and a place to ponder a historical perspective.

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First, the name: indeed this wetland is just outside the town of Colo, but no, it’s not a bog, not in the technical sense. A bog is a peat-building wetland with quite unique hydrology and chemistry, and unusual plants adapted for life there. This place is clearly not that kind of bog! But honestly, people use common names for habitats and their associated plants and animals, however they wish (don’t even get me started on what people call a “bug”), and 99Wetlands is not here to police terminology. So sure, knock yourself out, Colo “Bogs.”

Call it what you will, but a quick glance makes it clear what these wetlands are really about. The site is pockmarked by more-or-less circular, shallow basins of various size and depth—classic prairie potholes. On this day, some had open water, others had dried mud—not wet at all. This offers a variety of conditions to the organisms on site, what ecologists term habitat heterogeneity, and it’s good news for ecosystem function—think of it as a vibrant, lively neighborhood, or as a diversified investment portfolio. Lots of opportunities and options for future adaptations to change (whatever it may be).

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I promised a history lesson, too. Actually, a writer named Hank Zalatel tells the story well in this report for the Iowa Ornithological Union. Photos in the article show the early days of the Lincoln Highway, the first road to run coast-to-coast. The portion running through Colo Bogs is today part of County Road E-41. It’s obvious that wet sites like this one often caused motorists of yesteryear to get “bogged down.”

Running parallel to the highway, we have a railroad right-of-way. Two sets of tracks sit atop a substantial berm, high and dry but creating a dam between parts of the basin. It’s a busy stretch: several trains went past just in the short time I was on site.

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No doubt, highways and railroads will impact wetlands. Roadbeds raise the surface (grade), reducing wetland area. Roadbeds also act as a wall or dam, effectively a barrier to the movement of water, and at least some plants and animals betweenn the wetlands. Measuring the impacts requires careful study (anyone looking for a master’s thesis topic??). In the meantime, you could stroll around the various habitats comprising Colo Bogs and enjoy the wetlands that remain, whatever they may be called. Just be sure to look both ways when crossing the roads…

Author: Paul Weihe

Associate Professor of Biology at Central College, traditional author (Textbook of Limnology, Cole & Weihe, 5th ed.; Waveland Press), and now...blogger!

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