Principles of Wetland Design | Pittsburgh | October 2018

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Wetlands could be key in revitalizing acid streams

Swamp Stomp

Volume 18, Issue 41

Originally published as “Wetlands could be key in revitalizing acid streams, UT Arlington researchers say.” 2013
Media Contact: Traci Peterson, Office:817-272-9208, Cell:817-521-5494,

A team of University of Texas at Arlington biologists working with the U.S. Geological Survey has found that watershed wetlands can serve as a natural source for the improvement of streams polluted by acid rain.

A team of UTA biologists analyzed water samples in the Adirondack Forest Preserve.

The group, led by associate professor of biology Sophia Passy, also contends that recent increases in the level of organic matter in surface waters in regions of North America and Europe – also known as “brownification” – holds benefits for aquatic ecosystems.

The research team’s work appeared in the September issue of the journal Global Change Biology.

The team analyzed water samples collected in the Adirondack Forest Preserve, a six million acre region in northeastern New York. The Adirondacks have been adversely affected by atmospheric acid deposition with subsequent acidification of streams, lakes, and soils. Acidification occurs when environments become contaminated with inorganic acids, such as sulfuric and nitric acid, from industrial pollution of the atmosphere.

Inorganic acids from the rain filter through poorly buffered watersheds, releasing toxic aluminum from the soil into the waterways. The overall result is loss of biological diversity, including algae, invertebrates, fish, and amphibians.

“Ecologists and government officials have been looking for ways to reduce acidification and aluminum contamination of surface waters for 40 years. While Clean Air Act regulations have fueled progress, the problem is still not solved,” Passy said. “We hope that future restoration efforts in acid streams will consider the use of wetlands as a natural source of stream health improvement.”

Working during key times of the year for acid deposition, the team collected 637 samples from 192 streams from the Black and Oswegatchie River basins in the Adirondacks. Their results compared biodiversity of diatoms, or algae, with levels of organic and inorganic acids. They found that streams connected to wetlands had higher organic content, which led to lower levels of toxic inorganic aluminum and decreased presence of harmful inorganic acids.

Passy joined the UT Arlington College of Science in 2001. Katrina L. Pound, a doctoral student working in the Passy lab, is the lead author on the study. The other co-author is Gregory B. Lawrence, of the USGS’s New York Water Science Center.

The study authors believe that as streams acidified by acidic deposition pass through wetlands, they become enriched with organic matter, which binds harmful aluminum and limits its negative effects on stream producers. Organic matter also stimulates microbes that process sulfate and nitrate and thus decreases the inorganic acid content.

These helpful organic materials are also present in brownification – a process that some believe is tied to climate change. The newly published paper said that this process might help the recovery of biological communities from industrial acidification.

Many have viewed brownification as a negative environmental development because it is perceived as decreasing water quality for human consumption.

“What we’re saying is that it’s not entirely a bad thing from the perspective of ecosystem health,” Pound said.

The UTA team behind the paper hopes that watershed development, including wetland construction or stream re-channeling to existing wetlands, may become a viable alternative to liming. Liming is now widely used to reduce acidity in streams affected by acid rain but many scientists question its long-term effectiveness.

The new paper is available online at

Funding for Passy’s work was provided in part by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. The Norman Hackerman Advanced Research Program, a project of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, as well as the US Geological Survey, the Adirondack Lakes Survey Corporation and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation also provided support.

The University of Texas at Arlington is a comprehensive research institution of more than 33,000 students and more than 2,200 faculty members in the heart of North Texas. Visit to learn more.

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Wondiwoi Tree Kangaroos: Not Extinct Anymore!

Swamp Stomp

Volume 18 Issue 40

Reading about critically endangered species these days, we are often met with disappointing news. Increasing amounts of overhunting, pollution, and other forms of habitat destruction harm numerous species and cause damage to the environment every day. Fortunately, however, there is good news. One species that was considered to be extinct has been sited by scientists for the first time since 1928.

Dendrolagus mayri, better known as the Wondiwoi tree kangaroo, was considered extinct by many until amateur botanist Michael Smith of Farnham, England emerged from the jungles of New Guinea with pictures that told a different story. Ascending to 1,500 to 1,700 meters through dense bamboo thicket, Smith and his party of four Papuan porters, a local hunter, and Norman Terok, who studies at the University of Papua in Manokwari, saw the first Wondiwoi tree kangaroo in ninety years. Smith was able to capture a few pictures of the marsupial, some of the only pictures known to exist of the animal.

Long before Smith was born, Ernst Mayr, one of the most important evolutionary biologists of the 20th century, was the first person to spot the Wondiwoi tree kangaroo. However, that same day he also became the first person on record to shoot a Wondiwoi tree kangaroo, as was normal in 1928 in order to study the species. It was given the Latin designation Dendrolagus mayri in 1933 and has rarely been seen or even described since. Mark Eldridge, a marsupial biologist at the Australian Museum in Sydney, describes the Wondiwoi tree kangaroo as, “one of the most poorly known mammals in the world.” The only true evidence of its existence, before Smith took his camera to New Guinea, was the pelt of Mayr’s tree kangaroo that currently lies in London’s Natural History Museum.

There is little to no debate over whether or not what Smith saw was actually a Wondiwoi tree kangaroo. Tim Flannery, author of Tree Kangaroos: A Curious Natural History, notes that “The images are clear and reveal the distinctive coat color.” Smith had also described the scratch marks distinctive of tree kangaroos on many of the trees nearby as well as the characteristic smell of their dung. Flannery also points out that the habitat where Smith took his pictures would not suit the habitat of other related tree kangaroo species. To Flannery, this suggests that the Wondiwoi tree kangaroo is “amazingly common in a very small area,” of about 40 to 80 square miles.

For the Wondiwoi tree kangaroos, Smith’s pictures are more than just an interesting discovery: his find could result in a breakthrough in the conservation of all species of tree kangaroos. Roger Martin of James Cook University in Queensland, Australia says, “ It makes the point that if we provide habitat and otherwise leave them alone, then they will get on just fine.” Martin refers to the fact that Wondiwoi tree kangaroos live higher up in the bamboo thickets than hunters tend to hunt. The need for conservation of these animals is more important than ever, as a gold mine has been proposed to be built in the Wondiwoi Mountains which could potentially further threaten multiple species of tree kangaroos. Smith also remarks, “All this just shows that you can find interesting things if you simply go and look.” For all we know, the most extinct species may just be waiting to be discovered.


Pickrell, John. “Rare Tree Kangaroo Reappears After Vanishing for 90 Years.” National Geographic. National Geographic. September 25, 2018. Web. September 30, 2018.

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Is BPA-Free Just as Dangerous as BPA?

Swamp Stomp

Volume 18 Issue 39

If you own a water bottle, you may have seen the phrase, “BPA- Free”, usually printed in tiny black letters or perhaps with some flashy letters on a sticker pressed onto a new bottle. This phrase is just one of many that consumers see and trust immediately. BPA-free joins the ranks of “not treated with artificial growth hormone” and other phrases that seem important, but are rarely understood. However, BPA-free could turn out to be a dangerous phrase.

First, what is “BPA” and why do we not want it in our water bottles? Bisphenol A is the full name of the actual chemical compound, and it was first used by Bayer and General Electric in the 1950s to link together other compounds. The result was a polycarbonate chain that creates a hard, highly versatile plastic. Soon, BPA was found everywhere, from water bottles to grocery receipts, and to dental sealants. However, what the scientists didn’t realize was that BPA is also an incredible endocrine-disrupting compound. It was found that BPA could act like a hormone and disrupt the vital functions that hormones in our body carry out every day. With further research, scientists discovered just how dangerous BPA could be on the reproductive system, growth and development, and metabolism of many animals, including humans. Even more frightening, in the CDC’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey in 2003-2004, 93% of the 2,317 subjects involved had detectable levels of BPA in their urine. Based on the research that had been conducted, the FDA banned the use of BPA in many baby products such as sippy cups, and companies began placing the now familiar BPA-free label on their products.

This should have been the end of the story, case closed. BPA-free products left us with a warm “all is well” feeling, but it shouldn’t have. Instead of using BPA in their products, companies began using an alphabet soup of alternatives such as BPP, BPZ, BPAF, and others. While these seemed to be better, safer alternatives, geneticist Patricia Hunt of Washington State University may have accidentally discovered that they are quite the opposite. While studying the effects of BPA on mice, Hunt’s control group of mice, housed in a BPA-free cage, began experiencing the genetic results of mice damaged by BPA. Something in the plastics of the BPA-free cages was causing similar damage as the BPA cages. Although something may be BPA-free, it may not be endocrine disrupting free. Hunt’s research indicated that although no BPA was present, other compounds acted in the same dangerous manner as BPA.

So what should a well-informed consumer do? Until more research is conducted, it is probably a wise choice to also avoid BPA-free plastics, usually labeled with recycling codes of 3, 6, and 7. Some safe alternatives to plastics are glass and stainless steel, which are now commonly used in water bottles and other products. In addition, when you can, avoid placing plastics in the dishwasher or the microwave. These two actions have been shown to leach increased amounts of BPA and its alternative compounds.

It took twenty years for most companies to switch from BPA to BPA-free products. Hopefully, it will not take manufacturers that long to switch from BPA-free to being free of ANY harmful BPA compounds. Maybe, if enough people stop purchasing these products, they will no longer be manufactured. Then again, that would be an uphill battle considering the inexpensive, lightweight, and fairly unbreakable plastic products we have become so accustomed to using. Here’s hoping for a SAFE plastic.


Wei-Hass, Maya. “Why BPA Free May Not Mean a Plastic Product is Safe.” National Geographic. National Geographic. September 13, 2018. Web. September 18, 2018.