Most people think that wetlands are temporary, that they fill in by natural processes, and eventually become dry land. Some of these outdated ideas have come from the way that this subject has been covered in introductory textbooks in schools (Gibson, 1996). From these texts, we learned incorrectly that over time a lake fills with sediment or organic matter to become a wetland, which dries out to support shrubs and trees, and eventually it is no longer a wetland (Middleton, 1999; Middleton and others, 2004).
These old ideas of how vegetation changes (succession) are no longer accepted. Wetland succession should be thought of as a cycle, with natural disturbance driving the changes, depending on the needs of the species. Succession is not something that changes a wetland into something that is not a wetland (Egler, 1978; van der Valk, 1981; Middleton and others, 1991; Klinger, 1996; Middleton, 1999).
As an example of how disturbance changes wetlands, I have studied sedge meadows that have become invaded by shrubs after cattle (Bos sp.) have grazed them, in the Lodi Marsh State Natural Area, Wisconsin. Cattle disturbances allowed shrubs to invade sedge meadows, but the cattle also grazed on the shrubs, which kept them small. After the cows were removed, the plant species changed in the sedge meadow from the original sedges (fig. 1), to sedges mixed with growing small shrubs, and eventually to tall shrubs with very small amounts of sedge, called ?shrub carr? (Middleton, 2002a). Even though there has been a succession of plant types, the meadows, which began as wetlands, have remained wetlands. The settlers originally found the sedge meadows to be open ?sedge? lands and not shrubby. The settlers cut the sedges by hand to feed the cattle. Whitetailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), though probably not bison (Bison bison), grazed these sedge meadows (Middleton 2002a).
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Cattle Grazing and Its Long-term Effects on Sedge Meadows