The River Floodplain is the last line of defense for reducing soil and nutrient loss from the land. It includes hardwood forests which give refuge to a variety of birds and other wildlife and sustains insects which are food for the birds. Also found in the floodplain is the wetland. This habitat has standing water for most of the year, if not all. This wet, swampy area gives habitat to water-loving plants and animals. Wetlands provide more plant and animal life than any other ecosystem on earth. The wetlands of the Ohio River are a major reason that this area is an important “flyway” for migrating waterfowl and other birds.
The Aquatic Habitat
Most of the Ohio River Bottom is made up of shifting sand and gravel bars. Near the shorelines of the river and the bars, silt collects and stumps and snags can be seen rising out of the water as well, providing ideal habitat for fish. As a result, the Ohio River aquatic habitat supports some 200 species of native fish. Recreational fishing is a popular sport all along the Ohio River and its associated waters.
Another species that is prevalent in the aquatic habitat is the mussel. There were, at one time, some 103 native species of mussels in the free-flowing Ohio River; that number is now reduced to 50 species as many have become extinct due to mankind’s interference in their habitat. Construction in the river (bridges, dams, etc.) has stirred up the mud-particles suffocating the mussels. Also, poor oversight of contaminates has been perilous to the mussels as chemicals have often caused large mussel beds to succumb. Several species of mussels are now protected by federal law. Also, the fishing of mussels is now heavily regulated with specific guidelines for harvesting. Not only are mussels part of the food chain for other species of wildlife, but they are paramount to water cleanliness as one adult mussel can purify 6 gallons of water per day.
Also living in the aquatic habitat are several species of turtles, specifically the alligator snapping turtle and the map turtle.