Pre-Visit Lesson Suggestions:
The Wonderful World of Wetlands


Background Information

Wetlands are unique ecosystems where plants and animals live in water or saturated soil. It may be a landscape that includes shallow standing water such as a marsh, prairie pothole, or a slough; it may be a place where the mucky, smelly soil is always wet or typically has water near the surface such as a wet meadow; or it may be a combination of both watery landscapes.

Wetlands were common across Iowa 150 years ago. A majority of them were located in central and northern Iowa, within a section of land called the Des Moines Lobe. Created by the last glacier to cover the state 10,000-15,000 years ago, this area was left flattened with thousands of indents when the ice receded. Deep indents became lakes, while most of the more shallow recesses became prairie potholes. In some places within the Des Moines Lobe, as many as 200 potholes could be found within one square mile section of prairie.

With development of land for railroads, communities and farms over the years, the majority of Iowa wetlands were drained and dried. Today a mere ten percent of original Iowa wetland acres remain and only one percent of the prairie potholes can be found.

Reduced Iowa wetlands has meant lost habitat for thousands of plants, animals and invertebrates. In fact, most of Iowa’s endangered species live in or are associated with wetlands. This is no surprise, as healthy Iowa wetlands sustain a dynamic ecosystem where a large variety of plants, animals and invertebrates can thrive.

Benefits of Wetlands

Flood Control: The spongy soil of wetlands and surrounding water plants are efficient at absorbing the influx of water during a rainstorm or spring melt. The healthy, organic soil and thick root system lying underneath the prairie also absorb excess water more effectively than cropland. Iowa has experienced many heavy rainfall events in recent years with considerable crops being lost to flooding. Strategically placed wetlands and prairies could help to reduce losses in the future.

Pollution Control: Iowa’s waters are experiencing high rates of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution. Runoff waters carry these pollutants into Iowa’s waterways, where they damage water habitats and decrease clean water resources. Strategically placed wetlands can greatly reduce the amount of these pollutants. 

Habitat: Prairies and wetlands offer unique habitat for a variety of creatures. Numerous species of plants, animals, insects and microorganisms are reliant on these specific habitats for survival. The presence of these systems offers increased biodiversity and assists in reducing conservation concerns for species that have not adapted well to the massive reduction of their native habitat. Farmers may also enjoy benefits from prairie insect populations, as some are natural enemies to crop pests

Recreation: Prairies and wetlands offer a host of outdoor activities for Iowans to enjoy. Examples include photography, hiking, bird watching, fishing and catching butterflies, insects, tadpoles and frogs.

Education: Prairies and wetlands are fun places for classrooms to study and enjoy our natural resources and learn about conservation needs. They are a connection to our past and a very important aspect of Iowa’s ecology today and in the future.


Wetland: Area of land with wet soil or covered by shallow water
Erosion: Wearing away of soil by wind or water
Pollution: Contamination of soil, water, air, or the environment
Endangered: In danger of disappearing forever
Migration: Seasonal movement of animals
Hydric: Wet or water-logged
Invertebrate: Animals without backbone
Alteration: Change



Swamp: One Small Square by Donald M. Silver
Wetland Food Chains by Bobbie Kalman & Kylie Burns
Wetlands by Emile U. Lapthion
Wetlands by Ronald Hood
Wow! The Wonders of Wetlands by Alan S. Kesselheim, Britt E. Slattery, et al.
Wetland Web of Life by Philip Johansson
Scat by Carl Hiasson
The Yearling by Patricia Reilly Giff



Wetlands Have Real Important Jobs to Do (Music Video and Enhanced Learning Activities)
Life Is a Flyway (Music Video and Enhanced Learning Activities)
Incredible Wetlands (Short Documentary with "A Culture of Conservation" Enhanced Learning Activities)

Adventures of the Conservation Pack:
      Episode 4 (Video and Worksheet)
      Episode 10 (Video and Worksheet)



Additional Activities

Prairies, Wetlands and Croplands: Keys to the Future Lie in the Past 
Recommended activities on p.8-9 include Field trip to Wetland, Who Am I?, Wetland Mural, Wetland Food Web, Plant Filters, Soil Filters, and Water Race