Nature Lab

By Bonnie Chasteen | January 1, 2021
From Missouri Conservationist: January 2021

Missouri Bottomland Functional Assessment

When settlers first encountered Missouri’s wetlands, they often saw swampy obstacles to home­steading, farming, and industry-building.

But as settlers changed and developed Missouri’s wetlands, they also reduced many important and often-unseen functions. These include wetlands’ ability to reduce flood damage, stabilize stream banks, main­tain stream flows, store carbon, and cycle nitrogen and phosphorus — an essential process for clean water.

“Whether we realize it or not, these ecological functions benefit people as well as a range of fish and wildlife,” said MDC Scientist Frank Nelson. “Articulat­ing these functions, how they’ve changed over time, and quantifying where they currently occur has been largely overlooked.”

To fill this knowledge gap, MDC worked with a range of partners to develop a Missouri-based bot­tomland functional assessment, which summarized how habitat interactions occurred historically and where they occur today.

The result is a rich geospatial dataset across 10.27 million acres of Missouri’s bottomlands. This provides several new and valuable layers outlin­e the past and present capacity for six ecological functions.

Nelson said the assessment provides a founda­tion for stating how Missouri’s bottomland systems work, according to scientific understanding.

“The first step is to understand the changes that have occurred and potential trade-offs, so we can work with partners to establish appropriate con­servation goals and explore new opportunities,” he said.

“For example, in the past we’ve often looked to technology and infrastructure to solve problems like flooding and poor water quality. The assess­ment helps us understand how we could use wet­lands to help those affected by floods and water pollution as well as help the fish and wildlife that need functioning bottomland habitat.”

Bottomland Functional Assessment at a Glance

Tracing Past and Present Potential

  • Flood damage reduction
  • Stream bank stabilization
  • Carbon sequestration
  • Denitrification
  • Phosphorus retention
  • Stream flow maintenance


  • Ducks Unlimited
  • EPA
  • Missouri Department of Natural Resources
  • Missouri Department of Transportation
  • Missouri Resource Assessment Partnership
  • NRCS
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • University of Missouri

Also In This Issue

Monarch Butterfly
Serving Nature and You: Fiscal Year 2020.

This Issue's Staff

Magazine Manager - Stephanie Thurber

Editor - Angie Daly Morfeld

Associate Editor - Larry Archer

Staff Writer - Bonnie Chasteen
Staff Writer - Kristie Hilgedick
Staff Writer - Joe Jerek

Art Director - Cliff White

Designer - Shawn Carey
Designer - Marci Porter

Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner

Circulation - Laura Scheuler