Wetlands: Role of Buffers in Upland Infiltration, Nutrient Absorption and Wildlife Habitat

Principal Investigator(s):

John Nieber, Professor, Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering


  • Caleb Arika, Former Research Associate, Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering

Project summary:

Human activities including agricultural cultivation, forest harvesting, land development for residential housing, and development for manufacturing and industrial activities can impair the quality of water entering the wetland, thereby detrimentally affecting the natural ecological functions of the wetlands. This can lead to degradation of biota health and biodiversity within the wetland, reduced water quality in the wetland, and increased release of water quality degrading chemicals to receiving waters. Under natural conditions wetlands develop buffer areas that provide some protection from the natural processes occurring on adjacent areas of the landscape. Buffers serve the function of enhancing infiltration of surface runoff generated on adjacent areas, thereby promoting the retention of nutrients in the soil, and retention of sediment suspended in the runoff water, while still allowing runoff water to reach the wetland through subsurface flow routes. To protect wetlands and receiving waters downstream from the wetlands it is important that wetlands in areas disturbed by human activities be provided with sufficient buffer to prevent degradation of wetland biotic integrity as well as degradation of wetland water quality. The question arises, "How much buffer is sufficient?" The objective of this study was to investigate the sufficiency of buffers to protect wetland biotic integrity and water quality, and to evaluate the benefits extended to wildlife by the habit available in wetland buffers. The study was conducted by using a wetland database available for 64 wetlands in the Twin Cities metro area.

Project details:

  • Project number: 2008042
  • Start date: 12/2007
  • Project status: Completed
  • Research area: Environment and Energy
  • Topics: Environment, Planning