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Water: Wetlands

Fens

Wetland Types Overview | Marshes | Bogs | Swamps | Fens | References 

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Fens, like bogs, are peatlands, but because they are fed by groundwater they are not so acidic as bogs.

Description

Fens, are peat-forming wetlands that receive nutrients from sources other than precipitation: usually from upslope sources through drainage from surrounding mineral soils and from groundwater movement. Fens differ from bogs because they are less acidic and have higher nutrient levels. They are therefore able to support a much more diverse plant and animal community. These systems are often covered by grasses, sedges, rushes, and wildflowers. Some fens are characterized by parallel ridges of vegetation separated by less productive hollows. The ridges of these patterned fens form perpendicular to the downslope direction of water movement. Over time, peat may build up and separate the fen from its groundwater supply. When this happens, the fen receives fewer nutrients and may become a bog.

slipper

Showy Lady Slipper, Cypripedium reginae, is an example of a unique plant that thrives in fens

 

Like bogs, fens are mostly a northern hemisphere phenomenon -- occurring in the northeastern United States, the Great Lakes region, the Rocky Mountains, and much of Canada -- and are generally associated with low temperatures and short growing seasons, where ample precipitation and high humidity cause excessive moisture to accumulate.

Functions & Values Fens, like bogs, provide important benefits in a watershed, including preventing or reducing the risk of floods, improving water quality, and providing habitat for unique plant and animal communities.

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Fens may be dominated by woody or herbaceous vegetation. In this photograph, trees are invading an herbaceous fen.

Status
Like most peatlands, fens experienced a decline in acreage at a rate of about eight percent from 1950 to 1970, mostly from mining and draining for cropland, fuel, and fertilizer. Because of the large historical loss of this ecosystem type, remaining fens are that much more rare, and it is crucial to protect them. It is important to recognize that while mining and draining these ecosystems provide resources for people, up to 10,000 years are required to form a fen naturally.


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