USA-scale patterns in wetland water quality as determined from the 2011 National Wetland Condition Assessment

Abstract

Water quality is a central component of ecological assessments but less well characterized in wetlands than other waterbody types. The 2011 National Wetland Condition Assessment, spanning freshwater and brackish wetlands across the conterminous USA, provided an unprecedented opportunity to examine water quality patterns across broad wetland types and geographic scales. Surface water samples were obtained from 634 (56%) of sites visited. Total nitrogen (TN), total phosphorus (TP), planktonic chlorophyll (CHLA), and specific conductance (SPCOND) ranged 4 orders of magnitude across sites and were inter-correlated. Woody versus herbaceous vegetation type was an important classifier, with herbaceous sites having standing water more often and generally higher pH, nutrients, and CHLA. Nutrient ratios spanned a range from P-limited to N-limited in most biogeographic regions, and increasing TP was associated with decreasing TN:TP ratios. Compared to national-scale data for other waterbody types (lakes, streams, marine nearshore), wetlands had generally higher TN and TP but not higher CHLA. Differences among biogeographic regions in water quality were concordant between inland wetlands and lakes, and between marine-coast wetlands and the marine nearshore. Associations of TN, TP, and CHLA to percent agriculture or natural land were stronger for the watershed scale than for smaller concentric buffer scales, suggesting that wetlands are influenced by landuse some distance away. SPCOND was related to landuse in inland wetlands but reflected seawater influence in marine-coast wetlands. Water quality exhibits the same general patterns and responses across wetlands as across other waterbody types and thus can provide a basis for ecological classification and condition assessment.

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Acknowledgments

The data from the 2011 NWCA used in this paper resulted from the collective efforts of dedicated field crews, laboratory staff, data management and quality control staff, analysts, and many others from EPA, states, tribes, federal agencies, universities, and other organizations. A.T.H. was supported on this project via an intergovernmental personnel agreement with the US EPA Office of Water. We thank Karen Blocksom and Gregg Serenbetz for water quality data management, Jonathon Launspach for GIS support, and Janet Keough, two anonymous reviewers, and the associate editor for helpful comments. This manuscript has been subjected to Agency review and approved for publication. The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the US EPA or any NWCA partner agency.

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This article is part of the Topical Collection on Monitoring Wetlands on a Continental Scale: The Technical Basis for the National Wetland Condition Assessment

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Trebitz, A.S., Nestlerode, J.A. & Herlihy, A.T. USA-scale patterns in wetland water quality as determined from the 2011 National Wetland Condition Assessment. Environ Monit Assess 191, 266 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10661-019-7321-7

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Keywords

  • USA wetlands
  • Water quality survey
  • Nutrients
  • Landuse
  • Trophic state