Wetlands A Stew Of Unique Genetics

Every schoolkid has done the hay-infusion-in-a-jar experiment.

As it turns out, the myriad critters that appear in water in which hay has been soaked for a few days are just the tip of the iceberg.

Rhonda McDougall, director of planning and coordination for Manitoba Water Stewardship, who has spent many summers in hip boots wading through muck in research projects, noted that scientists have only just begun to study the profusion of life in Prairie sloughs, swamps and potholes.

In fact, only about half of the world’s estimated species, all the way up from the microbial level to protozoa and larger bugs that exist in that environment, have been identified and classified by biologists.

“How many people are worried about losing our tropical rainforests because of the plants and species that have not even been discovered yet that might be the great cure for cancer or AIDS?” she said at the MCDA seminar.

“Everybody is concerned and knows about that. But do you know that same situation applies to Prairie wetlands?”

Farmers who drain wetlands, she said, should also know that Prairie sloughs contain a potential treasure trove of plant genetic characteristics that scientists may one day use to make agriculture more resilient.

“We don’t even know what we’re losing in terms of plants that are highly acclimated to being successful on the Prairies. Losing our wetlands is not just about ducks, water quality or habitat. It’s also about genetic resources that allow us to have healthy ecosystems across the Prairies,” she said. [email protected]

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