Research Philosophy

Part land, part water, wetlands are ecosystems in which water level and low oxygen support a unique variety of ecological habitats. The hydrologic and biologic nature of wetlands is not always understood by those who write and are expected to comply with wetland regulations. Many people are unaware of the connections between surface water and groundwater or the link between the two that wetlands often provide.

Values ascribed to wetlands include: providing habitats for fishing, hunting, waterfowl; timber harvesting; wastewater assimilation; improving water quality; flood control; and providing recreational values. These perceived values arise directly from the ecological functions found within wetlands. Ecosystem functions include hydrologic transfers and storage of water, biogeochemical transformations, maintaining atmospheric carbon balance, primary productivity, decomposition, and community/habitat.

Analysis of the relationship among wetland functions and values show that overutilization or intensive removal of wetland values (e.g. timber harvesting with drainage, peat harvesting) can often result in a loss of specific wetland functions (e.g., decreased water storage).

Further complicating the issue of appropriate wetland resource management, people want both the unfettered right to use their own land and the right to use unpolluted waters. The Duke University Wetland Center focuses on these important issues and provides a forum for scientific and policy analyses.


Society must learn how to preserve, restore, and manage our dwindling wetland ecosystems to sustain ecological functions, maintain hydrologic integrity, and preserve community structure, all while allowing compatible development on adjacent landscapes. In the age of climate change, the challenge is even more urgent.

Research Is Needed To:

Assess the impact of human values on ecological functions in wetlands

Develop management strategies for increasing wetland capacity for carbon sequestration.

Develop restoration or reconstruction wetland procedures that result in functional replacement of wetlands

Devise best management practices for forestry and agriculture in or adjacent to wetlands to maintain water quality

Address wetland ecosystem functions and values with respect to upland systems on the landscape

Determine methods to evaluate wetland functions beyond their boundaries and far from adjacent landscapes

Evaluate wetlands in terms of scientific, economic and recreational factors

Selected Research Goals

Integrating ecological wetland functions and human wetland values.

Using wetlands in the fight against climate change.

Functional assessment of constructed wetlands versus natural wetlands.

Restoration of wetlands.

Assessment of wetland ecosystem functional response to highways.

Paleoecological studies of wetlands and estuaries

Wetland hydrology, paleohydrology and hydrologic evolution.,