Researchers Develop Mathematical Model for Managing Wetlands

Researchers from Utah State University have developed a mathematical model for the management of wetlands. The computer model can recommend actions, such as when to begin invasive plant control, to help maintain wetland habitats. The details are in a paper just published in the journal Water Resources Research.

Managing wetlands is a difficult job, especially as many states’ water supplies drop. The Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge is a 74,000-acre wildlife refuge in Utah. The refuge is home to many migratory bird species and other animals. Proper management is necessary to protect all of the unique birds that pass through but funding is limited.

A team of researchers developed a mathematical model to help wetland managers better prioritize actions that will have the greatest impact. The computer model calculates the weighted usable area, or WU, of Utah’s wetlands. WU is a measure of the amount of space suitable for migratory birds based on factors such as water level and type of vegetation. The model can then recommend actions that will best increase the WU of the area.

The research team found that properly managing water levels based on the model’s recommendations could significantly increase the WU of the wetlands. Controlling invasive plant species, such as phragmites, also raises WU. The model recommends that managers begin controlling these plants in August for the greatest effect. Currently, wetland managers wait until later in the year before taking measures to eliminate these invasive species.

The Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge is huge and divided into many smaller areas. Knowing which sections to prioritize is key to maximizing the amount of space suitable for migratory bird species. The new computer model will help by recommending specific actions that will have the greatest impact. This allows wetland managers to efficiently use their time and funding to properly maintain the refuge.


Omar Alminagorta, David E. Rosenberg, Karin M. Kettenring. Systems modeling to improve the hydroecological performance of diked wetlands. Water Resources Research (2016).

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