US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Published in WETLANDS, Vol. 22, No. 2, June 2002, pp. 256–262.


Tillage can destroy or greatly disturb indicators of hydric soils and hydrophytic vegetation, making delineation of tilled wetlands difficult. The remains of aquatic invertebrates (e.g., shells, drought-resistant eggs, and trichopteran cases) are easily identifiable and persist in wetland substrates even when wetlands are dry. Additionally, these remains are not easily destroyed by mechanical tillage. To test the feasibility of using invertebrate remains to delineate wetlands, we used two methods to identify the wetland edge of ten seasonal and ten temporary wetlands, evenly divided between grassland and cropland landscapes. First, we identified the wetland edge using hydric soil and vegetation indicators along six evenly spaced transects in each wetland (our ‘‘standard’’ delineation). We then identified the wetland edge along the same transects using aquatic invertebrate remains as our indicator. In grassland landscapes, delineations of the wetland edge made using invertebrate remains were consistently at the same location or closer to the wetland center as the standard delineations for both seasonal and temporary wetlands. In cropland landscapes, however, many of our invertebrate delineations of seasonal and temporary wetlands were on the upland side of our standard delineations. We attribute the differences to movement of remains during tillage, increased maximum pool levels in cropland wetlands, and disturbance of hydric soils and plants. We found that the elevations of the wetland edge indicated by invertebrate remains were more consistent within a wetland than elevations determined by standard delineations. Aquatic invertebrate remains can be useful in delineating wetlands when other indicators have been destroyed or severely disturbed by tillage.