Wetlands serve as some of the most complex and important ecosystems on Earth, providing habitat for many plants and animals, collecting and filtering water, and reducing the amount of damage from floods and heavy rainfall. Wetlands go by many alternative names, including swamps, marshes and bogs. They vary slightly in physical composition; some wetlands contain primarily trees, while others contain brush and shrubs, but all perform equally important ecological roles.
In the United States, wetlands serve as homes and form critical habitats for nearly 50 percent of the nation's federally endangered plant and animal species. Fish, birds, amphibians and many types of plants require the resources found only in wetlands for survival. In addition to protecting threatened and endangered species, wetlands control flooding by acting as large sponges, filling with excess water when heavy rains fall. A single acre of wetlands might store over 1 million gallons of water, making them ideal natural sources of flood control. The trees and brush in wetlands anchor soil and vegetation to the ground, which ultimately reduces wind and soil erosion.
Wetlands provide humans with recreational opportunities and offer economic benefits as well. They supply ample amounts of shellfish along with cranberries, blueberries and wild rice. Waterfowl hunting within wetland boundaries proves lucrative, and some medicines derive from ingredients found only in wetlands.