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Wetlands Threatened by New EPA Guidance, MU Researcher Says

June 11, 2007

Story Contact:  Katharine Kostiuk, 573-882-3346,

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Last week, a new guidance issued by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers dealt a blow to non-permanent streams and wetlands. The guidance said that for such waters to be protected there must be a “significant nexus” between the stream or wetland and a traditional waterway.

Ray Semlitsch, Curators' Professor of Biology at the University of Missouri-Columbia, said this change threatens the survival of non-permanent streams and wetlands. Semlitsch's research focuses on amphibians that live in seasonal wetlands and headwater streams. He believes the new EPA guidance will leave isolated wetlands and small streams, often the most numerous on the landscape and most important for amphibians, unprotected and will endanger the unique animals and plants that live in them.

“It also muddies the issue of defining a 'significant nexus,' which should be biologically defined by the organism using these habitats and their importance for ecosystem function, not by regulators determining if it's navigable,” he said. “Some of the most important seasonal wetlands and headwater streams for amphibians and a host of other organisms are not even discernible at certain seasons of the year and will easily be overlooked and destroyed.”

According to an EPA publication, wetlands “clean the water, recharge water supplies, reduce flood risks and provide fish and wildlife habitats. In addition, wetlands provide recreational opportunities, aesthetic benefits, sites for research and education and commercial fishery benefits.”

“Wetlands play many important roles, from acting as natural water storage and purification centers to being homes for a great diversity of plants and animals,” Semlitsch said. “Isolated wetlands and headwater streams are important because they're home to certain types of biodiversity not found elsewhere, especially not in navigable waterways. We need to protect wetlands and streams because they're essential sources of biodiversity, amphibian biomass for the food web, and because they provide important benefits to us.”

Semlitsch has been on the MU faculty since 1993 and has worked extensively on Carolina bay wetlands in South Carolina and headwater streams in the southern Appalachians. Prior to that, he worked at the University of Zurich and Memphis State University. He has his doctorate is zoology from the University of Georgia. For more information about Semlitsch's research visit the professor's Web site.