Marshland, treeless land in which the water table is at, above, or just below the surface of the ground; it is dominated by grasses, reeds, sedges, and cattails. These plants typify emergent vegetation, which has its roots in soil covered or saturated with water and its leaves held above water.

Types of Marshes

Marshes may be freshwater or salt. Freshwater marshes develop along the shallow margins of lakes and slow-moving rivers, forming when ponds and lakes become filled with sediment. Salt marshes occur on coastal tidal flats. Inland salt marshes occupy the edges of saline lakes. The nature of a marsh—its plant composition, species ichness, and productivity—is strongly influenced by its relationship to surrounding ecosystems. They affect the supply of nutrients, the movement of water, and the type and deposition of sediment. In the prairie pothole country of glaciated central North America, freshwater marshes undergo a cyclic renewal that is induced by periodic drought and dependent on the feeding habits of muskrats. The cycle begins with a nearly dry marsh in which seeds of aquatic plants germinate in the mud. When the marsh fills, the aquatic plants grow densely. Muskrats eat large areas of the emergent vegetation, creating patches of open water.This causes the shallow-water emergents to decline, but the submerged and floating species persist. When the next drought comes, the cycle begins again. Salt marshes are best developed on the Atlantic coasts of North America and Europe. In eastern North America the low marsh is dominated by a single species, salt-marsh cordgrass. The high marsh consists of a short cordgrass called hay, spike grass, and glasswort. Glasswort is the dominant plant of Pacific Coast salt marshes.

Water and Vegetation Patterns
In some marshes, such as the saw-grass wetlands of the Everglades or in salt marshes that are swept twice daily by tidal floods, water flows like a sheet across the surface, and the terrain is typically dominated by one or two species of emergent vegetation. In other marshes the water flows in channels rather than in sheets, flooding only at times of snowmelt and heavy precipitation and bringing in nutrients and sediment. Such irregular deposition of sediments provides variations in water depth, thus creating conditions favorable for a variety of wetland species. Deep marsh water is colonized by aquatic submerged plants (pond weeds) and floating plants (pond lilies). Shallower water supports reeds and wild rice. Very shallow water supports sedges, bulrushes, and cattails. As sediments and organic deposits raise the bottom of a marsh above the water table, aquatic vegetation is gradually replaced by shrubs and eventually by a terrestrial ecosystem
Freshwater marshes provide nesting and wintering habitats for waterfowl and shorebirds, muskrats, frogs, and many aquatic insects. Salt marshes are wintering grounds for snow geese and ducks, a nesting habitat for herons and rails, and a source of nutrients for estuarine waters. Marshes are important in flood control, in sustaining high-water tables, and as settling basins to reduce pollution downstream. Despite their great environmental value, marshes are continually being destroyed by drainage and filling.

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