So you’ve got a wetland… but what does that mean?

Wetlands are defined as an area of land that is saturated by water for a period of time each year; typically this period of time is long enough for hydrophytic (water-loving) vegetation to grow. There are 3 items that are examined to determine wetlands and these are 1) plants, 2) soils, and 3) hydrology. Usually within New York vegetation is used primarily, as it is the most non-invasive way to determine wetlands and their boundaries. Looking at the soil and hydrology maps of the area then backs up these determinations. In some cases where they need to be proofed, scientist will go out in the field and actually measure the soils and ground water.

Again, just because it is a wetland doesn’t mean that it has to be wet at all times, only long enough for water-adapted vegetation to grow! (i.e. seasonally, or permanently)

What makes it a marsh?

Marshes are wetlands that are more permanently flooded, as is Koinonia! Marshes differ from swamps because they don’t have any tree cover, but instead are dominated by grasses and plants. From Mud Pond to the spillway, this entire area is considered the ‘emergent marsh’ with some patches that resemble a bog (but we will get to that next!). But what does emergent mean? The word emergent in this context means that the plant grows out of the water, it might help to have it next to other terms like this…

Aquatic Plant Terms:

  • Rooted – growing from the bottom with roots

  • Non-rooted – growing without forming true roots

  • Submerged – growing completely below the water level (i.e. bladderwort)

  • Floating – can be rooted or non-rooted, but float on surface of water, can have stems or not (i.e. water lilies)

  • Emergent – usually rooted, but extend above surface (i.e. pickerelweed)

  • According to the technical report, Ecological Communities of New York, which uses plants to categorize ecosystems – mud pond and below is a deep emergent marsh! See the description below form this text:

Don’t get too bogged down (punny?) in the plant names, I will explain them each in another blog posts! Just know from this text that Koinonia has many of these aquatic plants and has a depth (<6.6 ft) that is agreeable with the definition of deep emergent marsh!

What makes it a bog?

A bog is a wetland that has a substrate (think base, like soil) that is primarily peat. If you have ever been crafty and have purchased ‘peat moss’ for decorations, this is the exact same stuff! Typically bogs have a low pH and are acidic. Although the entire waterbody at Koinonia has a low pH, above Mud Pond is considered the bog portion because of the peat moss and below is considered the deep emergent marsh! From the floating bridge you can really see how these mats of floating plants surround Mud Pond – they are supported by meters of peat moss (the scientific name is sphagnum). Again, there are no trees dominant in this ecosystem but there are a few key plants such as leather leaf, sundews, pitcher plants, cranberries (that’s right, cranberries are grown in a bog!), and a variety of sedges! To explain a little further the bog at Koinonia is special, very special. It is a quaking bog! But what does this mean? It means that the peat moss, which is not rooted, grows on top of the water like a floating mat. The peat moss can grow from a few meters to many meters depending on time left undisturbed; but remember it is floating on water. The peat moss is stable and can support other plants, shrubs, and even trees. What makes it quaking though is when you walk or jump on the mat and the whole thing moves! It quakes and ripples just like water would! Sometimes even the shrubs and trees could sway. Although highly unlikely, it is possible to fall through the peat moss mat – so it is advised never to go on a quaking bog alone! This shouldn’t deter you from experiencing it at some point in your life – and future plans for Koinonia’s outdoor education might make this bucket list item much more obtainable for visitors! I took a few staff members for Koinonia out on the bog to experience it for the first time and the reaction was priceless!

Click here to watch a video and get a better idea of what I mean:

Why is the water brown?

The water at Koinonia is brown; also known as ‘tea colored’ and this is 100% natural! I will explain… Koinonia is south of the Catskills but the watershed still has many of the same characteristics. The watershed is made up of mostly coniferous trees, or ‘cone-bearing/needle-bearing’ trees. When needles are washed into water to decompose and cycle nutrients, tannins are released. Tannins are used in winemaking and leather production for – get this – ‘tanning leather’. Tannins naturally acidify water and color the water brownish. The color is totally natural, and totally normal for this area! So along with the tea color, the water is also acidic with a pH of about 5.5; a fact that will become more relevant in the next segment.

Why has the lake been filling in over the years?

After looking at older maps made by the army corps of engineers from before Koinonia was settled, I have determined that the waterbody has filled in approximately 3 feet, or 1 meter. But why is this? Filling in of waterbodies is natural and comes from the process called eutrophication; nutrients come in, plants grow, plants die and decompose, overtime filling in the bottom with organic matter. It is important to note that water ecosystems are constantly changing and fluctuating – this is just the nature of limnology (freshwater ecology) and it is natural for lakes/ponds/rivers to fill in and transition (lake -> wetland -> meadow) but over many, many, many years!

The watershed and ecology of an area can help predict or explain if/why this process happens faster or slower than other areas. Some things that speed up the filling in process are: excessive nutrients, high sedimentation rates due to high erosion (can be many factors for erosion in a watershed), even some natural disasters can have effects. A term where humans increase nutrient inputs that can increase this filling in is called ‘cultural eutrophication’ – Koinonia doesn’t have to worry about this because the watershed is highly undeveloped and protected as a natural area by the camp. So the filling in rate is natural and will happen without human involvement. The issue that makes it unique at Koinonia has to do with the acidity of the water. As we talked about previously the water in Koinonia is acidic due to the watershed, and acidity plays a significant role in nutrient cycling and decomposition. Acidity actually slows down decomposition because the organisms that facilitate the breakdown (i.e. bacteria, fungi, and enzymes) slow down or don’t function at all! This again, is completely normal! BUT, what results is less breakdown of organic matter, less cycling of nutrients, and an increase in organic ‘stuff’ that builds up…. Like dead plants – this can be seen in the water of Koinonia.

The limiting amount of nutrients that are available because most are not broken down and recycled has an interesting affect on plants that are found here! These plants found in acidic environments like bogs have adaptation to supplement their diets because they are not getting enough nutrients, introducing carnivorous plants! No, they are not scary and will not harm you – a human. But, they are interesting and exciting to learn about! Stay tuned for more!

Visit this page for eutrophication info:

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