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See Inside Scientific American Volume 309, Issue 6

Less Is More When Restoring Wetlands

Many wetland recovery programs have failed by trying to re-create the original ecosystems. Recent successes have focused on one or two limited goals and have let nature take it from there

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Joy Zedler carefully planned the three experimental wetlands at the University of Wisconsin–Madison's Arboretum to be identical: parallel marshes 295 feet long and 15 feet wide, carved by engineers into the green landscape. Zedler's contractors planted all three tracts with similar species to see how the vegetation would absorb and clean water runoff during storms.

Zedler's team also allowed the same amount of water to flow into the test beds from a pond at the front ends of the tracts. They planned to measure the nutrients in the water entering each plot and draining into a basin at the far end, as well as soil stability, water absorption, and the productivity and diversity of the grasses and other plants. The scientists expected that each of the three wetlands would behave similarly.

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