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Resource or Project Abstract

Natural wetlands (NWs) are one of the most economically and ecologically important habitats on Earth, currently comprising about 6% of the world?s surface area. They provide many ecosystem services including the supply of fresh water, food and building materials, water quality improvement, biodiversity support and flood mitigation. The loss of NWs (> 50%) globally over the past two centuries has, however, greatly reduced their facilitation in water purification and wastewater treatment. For this reason, various types of artificial wetlands (constructed wetlands; CWs) have been designed to assist in the removal of a range of pollutants from wastewaters, and accordingly, improve water quality.

Constructed wetlands have several advantages in comparison to conventional wastewater treatment systems. They are a sustainable, green system requiring lower operation and maintenance costs. In addition, the vegetation in CWs assists in many important pollutant removal mechanisms including sedimentation, filtration and plant uptake of metals and nutrients. However, a paucity of information exists on metal and nutrient accumulations within vegetation in CWs, with many studies focusing on concentrations only. As a result, best practices for the harvesting of CW vegetation as a means of metal / nutrient removal, is lacking. This study addresses this significant knowledge gap in CW performance via biomass harvesting of CW vegetation. The additional benefits to biodiversity provided by CWs have received comparatively less attention than their capacity in wastewater treatment. This provides the incentive for the second aim of this study where the biodiversity value of CWs in comparison to that of NWs is assessed. For the first time, the suitability of terrestrial habitats surrounding CWs and NWs for the protected smooth newt is compared, with a view to recommending newt-friendly changes to existing and future CW design. Similarly, marsh flies (Diptera: Sciomyzidae) which are recognised bioindicators of wetlands, are used to quantify, for the first time, the value of CWs to aerial invertebrate diversity. This study also assesses the impacts of water quality and the habitats surrounding CWs on marsh flies since no systematic study has examined this to date.

The results of the study show that the concentrations and accumulations of metals and nutrients in CW vegetation follow contrasting seasonal patterns. Some metals and nutrients measured in the belowground (BG) biomass were greater than 80% of the more commonly measured aboveground (AG) biomass suggesting that analysis of emergent shoots only may significantly underestimate the metal and nutrient uptake and capacity of CW vegetation. Based on the results of the study, it is important to schedule harvesting at specific times of the year to coincide with maximum accumulations of specific metals and nutrients in CW plants. The study also shows that CWs present an opportunity to compliment biodiversity in the locations in which they are placed. The results of a Habitat Suitability Index (HSI) whereby each CW and NW received a score, concluded that appropriate management of the areas immediately surrounding CWs can provide habitat for the protected smooth newt and recommendations to improve new and existing CWs as newt-friendly habitat were crafted. Marsh fly assemblages are similarly influenced by habitats surrounding CWs. In addition, the potential value of CWs to marsh fly conservation is evidenced by over one third of the Irish sciomyzid fauna being represented in the eight CWs in this study, including four species listed as scarce or threatened in the UK.
In conclusion, the results of this study have reinforced the motion which suggests that CW treatment performance is better when plants are present, due to the uptake capacity and accumulation of metals and nutrients into the CW vegetation. The results has elucidated the seasonal patterns of metals and nutrients in AG and BG biomass in a temperate oceanic climate, and provides recommendations on removal via vegetation harvesting, which could prevent potential pollution events in receiving waters. In addition, CWs can now be viewed as crucial in providing habitat to species of conservation concern such as the smooth newt, and scarce and threatened sciomyzid flies, that may be otherwise absent in the surrounding landscape in which CWs are placed. Extensive recommendations to include minor modifications to the future design and management of CWs for smooth newts and marsh flies are provided, which can also be applied to enhance CWs for other wildlife groups and species of conservation concern.

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Contact Information for This Resource

Dr. Mark Healy
National University of Ireland, Galway

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Attachment Name and Download Link
Att 1    Maher_et_al._Dip_Digest_paper.pdf   (1.71 Mb)
Att 2    7ED3BDMulkeen_et_al._2017_(habitat_paper).pdf   (1.53 Mb)
Att 3    Mulkeen_et_al._2017_(vegetation_paper).pdf   (0.97 Mb)

Suggested Citation Information

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Author(s)Healy, M.
Title Of WebsiteSecure Archive For Environmental Research Data
Name of OrganisationEnvironmental Protection Agency Ireland
Electronic Address or URL
Unique Identifier434591a6-5d11-11e8-b825-005056ae0019
Date of AccessLast Updated on SAFER: 2018-06-25

An example of this citation in proper usage:

Healy, M.   "BIODIVERSITY RICHNESS AND PERFORMANCE OF CONSTRUCTED WETLANDS; A COMPARISON WITH NATURAL WETLANDS". Associated datasets and digitial information objects connected to this resource are available at: Secure Archive For Environmental Research Data (SAFER) managed by Environmental Protection Agency Ireland (Last Accessed: 2018-06-25)


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Access Information For This Resource

SAFER-Data Display URL
Resource Keywordsconstructed wetlands, natural wetlands, biodiversity
EPA/ERTDI/STRIVE Project Code2013-B-PhD-12
EPA/ERTDI/STRIVE Project ThemeBiodiversity
Resource Availability: Any User Can Download Files From This Resource
Limitations on the use of this ResourcePlease refer to the publisher guidelines.
Number of Attached Files (Publicly and Openly Available for Download): 3
Project Start Date Monday 3rd February 2014 (03-02-2014)
Earliest Recorded Date within any attached datasets or digital objects Monday 3rd February 2014 (03-02-2014)
Most Recent Recorded Date within any attached datasets or digital objects Monday 21st May 2018 (21-05-2018)
Published on SAFERMonday 21st May 2018 (21-05-2018)
Date of Last EditMonday 21st May 2018 at 17:49:33 (21-05-2018)
Datasets or Files Updated On Monday 21st May 2018 at 17:47:57 (21-05-2018)

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Geographical and Spatial Information Related To This Resource

Description of Geographical Characteristics of This Project or Dataset
Eight CWs and eight NWs were selected in counties Mayo, Galway, Roscommon and Leitrim in the west of Ireland

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Supplementary Information About This Resource

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Lineage information about this project or dataset
Natural wetlands (NWs) are one of the most economically and ecologically important habitats on Earth (Staunton et al., 2014) and can be described as transitional environments, occurring between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems (Lehner and Döll, 2004). Natural wetlands provide vital ecosystem services such as acting as a source of fresh water and food, water purification, flood control, and climate change mitigation. In addition, NWs have a rich biodiversity supporting extensive numbers of bird, mammal, fish, invertebrate, reptile and amphibian species. Despite these benefits, NWs have been considered a hindrance towards agricultural and urban development, and this attitude has led to the loss of over 50% of the global area of NWs in the last 200 years (Van Meter and Basu, 2015). As NWs also have the capacity to carry out water purification and wastewater treatment, the reduction in the numbers of NWs has significantly decreased their ability to deliver this service (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005). In more recent years, wetlands are being constructed specifically to tackle the treatment of wastewater and water pollution (Harrington et al., 2013).

Constructed wetlands (CWs) are human-made wastewater treatment systems which are gaining in popularity due to their acceptance as economical, green, and efficient wastewater treatment systems (Mustafa, 2017) requiring little operation and maintenance (Zhang et al., 2009). Numerous studies to date have concluded that CWs planted with vegetation perform better than unplanted systems (Kadlec and Wallace, 2009). An understanding of the seasonal variation in the standing stock of metals and nutrients in emergent vegetation of CWs, as well as the amounts present in aboveground (AG) and belowground (BG) biomass, is crucial to their design, including plant species selection, and future management. However, relatively little information currently exists on accumulation and standing stocks in biomass in CWs (Vymazal and Březinová, 2016). If the use of CWs is to increase, the seasonal variations of metals in vegetation, and the management of the vegetation, must be first of all understood.

The biodiversity of CWs (Ghermandi et al., 2008), an ancillary benefit, has received relatively little attention to date. Those studies addressing biodiversity have focused largely on birds, mammals, and freshwater invertebrates within CWs. However, the landscapes in which CWs are situated may also have a role to play in the conservation of animals with bi-phasic, life-cycle requirements such as the smooth newt (Lissotriton vulgaris [Linnaeus, 1758]). The smooth newt which is the sole native species of newt found in Ireland is known to use a variety of aquatic habitats during the breeding season. After breeding, smooth newts tend to move short distances into terrestrial habitats on land (Griffiths, 1984). However, drainage and infilling (Staunton et al., 2014; 2015), and the eradication of vegetation surrounding NWs (King et al., 2011), remains a threat to smooth newt populations. Given that smooth newts are known to occupy ponds in CWs in Ireland (Scholz et al., 2007), the suitability of the terrestrial habitats around CWs has yet to be examined in detail.
Constructed wetlands are also important habitats for aerial invertebrates, including the marsh flies (Diptera:Sciomyzidae) which are predominantly wetland specialists. Marsh fly species are known bioindicators in wetlands, making them a useful group to assess the wider dipteran community in wetlands (Carey et al., 2017). However, no systematic study has yet been undertaken on the value of CWs to marsh fly assemblages, nor has any investigation yet been undertaken on the impacts of either water quality in CWs or the habitats surrounding CWs on sciomyzid species richness, abundance and diversity.

In this thesis, constructed wetlands are examined from two perspectives. Firstly, from a wastewater treatment perspective and in particular, the role played by CW vegetation in metal and nutrient removal from wastewater. Secondly, it examines the role of CWs in the provision of biodiversity in comparison with NWs, with particular reference to amphibians and marsh flies (Diptera:Sciomyzidae).
Supplementary Information
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Other Similiar Projects on SAFER

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