Wetland Word: Hydrophyte

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These water-dwelling plants are found in aquatic ecosystems, including wetlands.

Word: Hydrophyte 

Definition:

No need to get in the weeds on this, but if you photosynthesize and love water, you might just be a hydrophyte. These water-dwelling plants are found in aquatic ecosystems, including wetlands. Some hydrophytes may be submerged in water, like hydrilla, while others float on the surface, like duckweed. Still others live in saturated substrate common in wetlands, where hydrophytes have adapted to the low-oxygen soil conditions that result from the soil being inundated or saturated with water.  

Etymology:  

The word “hydro” comes from Ancient Greek ὑδρο- (meaning hudro-) and ὕδωρ (meaning húdōr, or water). “Phyte” comes from the Greek phuton, meaning ‘a plant’ and phuein, meaning ‘come into being.’ 

Essentially, hydrophyte translates to “water plant;” the term is thought to have originated in 1822. 

Use/Significance in the Earth Science Community: Generally speaking, three characteristics are used to identify a wetland: 

  1. Presence of water in or above the soil 

  1. Hydric soil 

  1. Hydrophytic vegetation 

Wetland ecosystems aren’t always an easy place to live, especially for plants. But hydrophytic vegetation? They’re living their best life. Bring on the low oxygen and wet conditions! These plants are specially adapted to survive in wetlands, and their presence helps scientists and environmental managers identify specific wetland types, which can help projects like wetland delineations. Scientists can study hydrophytic vegetation community composition and abundance to assess wetland ecosystem productivity and provision of services, like carbon sequestration.   

Coastwide Reference Monitoring System - Boardwalk at CRMS1277

The Coastwide Reference Monitoring System is jointly implemented by the USGS and the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority  in Louisiana and monitors and evaluates the effectiveness of restoration projects across the state. USGS  scientists collect hydrology, soil, vegetation, and land change data at 45 of those sites. Credit: Sergio Merino, USGS 

U.S. Geological Survey Use: 

The wetlands lining the coast of Louisiana are home to important fish and wildlife species, protect shorelines from erosion and storm surge, and filter contaminants from the water. However, the state has experienced the greatest coastal wetland loss of any other state in the continental U.S. Federal and state-funded restoration projects are underway to restore hydrologic conditions and rebuild wetlands, and scientists at the USGS Wetland and Aquatic Research Center play a key role in monitoring these projects and providing the information needed to ensure long-term success.  

Climate change, as well as human-induced changes to hydrology and land use, can lead to shifts in wetland vegetation types as some plants are more suited for certain conditions. Scientists at the USGS Wetland Aquatic Research Center monitor these shifts to better understand how these changes in vegetation might affect ecosystem structure and function, as well as the services they provide to us. Changes in wetland types could have implications for coastal protection projects as well as habitat and wildlife management strategies. USGS and partners are working to anticipate future changes and ensure resource managers and policy makers have the information to make effective decisions related to the protection, restoration, and adaption of coastal wetlands in Louisiana – and around the Nation. 

For more information on wetland science at the USGS Wetland and Aquatic Research Center, please visit: https://www.usgs.gov/centers/wetland-and-aquatic-research-center-warc/science-topics/wetlands