Building a Better Wetland

Kenyon biologist uses new grant to study wetlands restoration

The destruction of half the nation's wetlands over the last two centuries has dramatically changed the environmental landscape in the United States. And now, some scientists say that a federal policy designed to mitigate this damage through wetlands restoration and creation isn't working.

"To date, there have been a fair number of studies saying that wetland restoration isn't working, but no one really knows why," says Siobhan Fennessy, an associate professor and chair of biology at Kenyon whose research focuses on wetlands ecology.

It's an issue Fennessy plans to explore with a new three-year, $410,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture.

Data from another national study, which compared ten restored wetlands and ten natural sites, pointed to several ecological differences between the two, says Fennessy, who participated in that study and who has studied wetlands in the United Kingdom and France, as well as in Ohio.

The Kenyon scientist plans to build on those findings for this current project, which will first examine how natural and created wetlands process and use carbon and nitrogen, two elements whose presence is crucial to a wetlands' environmental health.

"The availability of carbon and nitrogen in the soil, and how they move through the ecosystem, are very different in created and natural wetlands," says Fennessy, who plans to study wetlands around Ohio for this effort.

The project, a collaboration among Kenyon, Ohio State University, and the University of New Hampshire, will include support over the next three years for students in the Kenyon Summer Science program. Students involved with the research will work in the field, comparing natural wetlands to recently created ones and some that were restored years ago. The student researchers also will develop recommendations for better restoration methods, information that could affect how future wetlands are designed.