Spot on Science: Mushy Gushy Bogs And Marshes

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[Margaret] Turns out, Ohio is one mushy, gushy place, and no, I don't mean lovey dovey. I'm talking about our marshes and bogs. You might think of them as swamps, but they are super important to our state's ecosystem. So much so, that they are often protected by the state and federal government. To find out more, I met up with Adam Woolover of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources at couple wetlands in Kent, Ohio.

- Today we are at Tom S. Cooperrider-Kent State Nature Preserve, and so this is a bog that we're in today which is a type of wetland. So, wetland's a fairly general term that can describe a lot of different types of land areas that are associated with saturated soils. And so, we can break that down further into different types or categories of wetland. So, for instance, a swamp is usually more associated with trees. So you'll have an area that very wet but you'll also have trees growing in it. A marsh is similar, but typically rather than trees we have shrubs, sedges, smaller emergent type plants. When we get into bogs and fens those are even more different because those are more associated with the chemical composition of the water, the different type of plants that we find there, and as well as the animals. In general though, all of them, at least for the northern two thirds of the state of Ohio, were formed during the last glaciation that we had here in the state.

[Margaret] That glaciation took place 15 to 20 thousand years ago, according to Adam. When the ice age glacier covering part of Ohio began to retreat north, chunks of it broke off and got left behind. One of these ice blocks in Kent, Ohio melted to form what's called a kettle hole lake. Over time, specialized plants began to grow in the wet soil forming the Kent Cooperrider bog that we have today. Several unique animals and plants can still be found here.

- We find a lot of rare plants and animals within wetlands. For instance, in Ohio, just over 40 percent of the plants and animals that we consider to be rare, are found within a wetland habitat.

[Margaret] At Kent Cooperrider bog, you can see tamarack trees. They might look like your average evergreen but they're actually desiduous conifers. So, like broadleaf trees, these guys turn bright yellow in the fall and drop all their needles.

- And so it's loaded with these tiny, little cones, maybe less than an inch long. They're brown now but in the spring time when this tree begins to leaf out again these cones are gonna start setting on the tree and they're a beautiful red or maroon color, so you get this combination of green and red with this very special tree.

[Margaret] You can also see highbush blueberries here. They may be smaller than what you buy in the grocery store but they're still tasty to the wildlife. Of course, you should never eat berries you find in the wild since they might make you sick. One other cool planet here is sphagnum moss. Ten species of the green plant have been found here.

- It's super absorbent. So a bunch of sphagnum moss like this can hold over 30 times it's own volume in water. So when I squeeze it we see all the water that drips out of the sphagnum moss.

[Margaret] Plus, the moss changes the PH of water around it making it more acidic, so only certain other plants can live near by. Besides being home to some cool plants, this bog, like all wetlands, plays an important role in keeping the Earth healthy.

- Wetlands are like filters. They can filter out sediments, pollutants, harmful chemicals, but they're also reservoirs. In times of drought they can provide us with fresh water and they are also like a sponge. So, in times where we have a lot of rain fall or flooding they can take in water and they can reduce flooding, damage to property or loss of life.

[Margaret] Wetlands are protected by both the federal and state government. But it's our responsibility too to keep these special places safe.

- These are some of the last vestiges where we're gonna find these plants and animals, so if we don't protect them or we don't protect their habitat and home they're going to be essentially gone forever.

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