US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Published in WETLANDS, Vol. 24, No. 2, June 2004, pp. 448–458.


We describe a conceptual model, the wetland continuum, which allows wetland managers, scientists, and ecologists to consider simultaneously the influence of climate and hydrologic setting on wetland biological communities. Although multidimensional, the wetland continuum is most easily represented as a two-dimensional gradient, with ground water and atmospheric water constituting the horizontal and vertical axes, respectively. By locating the position of a wetland on both axes of the continuum, the potential biological expression of the wetland can be predicted at any point in time. The model provides a framework useful in the organization and interpretation of biological data from wetlands by incorporating the dynamic changes these systems undergo as a result of normal climatic variation rather than placing them into static categories common to many wetland classification systems. While we developed this model from the literature available for depressional wetlands in the prairie pothole region of North America, we believe the concept has application to wetlands in many other geographic locations.