The degradation of wetland ecosystems is currently recognized as one of the main threats to global biodiversity. As a means of compensation, constructed wetlands (CWs), which are built to treat agricultural runoff and municipal wastewater, have become important for maintaining biodiversity. Here, we review studies on the relationships between CWs and their associated biodiversity published over the past three decades. In doing so, we provide an overview of how wildlife utilizes CWs, and the effects of biodiversity on pollutant transformation and removal. Beyond their primary aim (to purify various kinds of wastewater), CWs provide sub-optimal habitat for many species and, in turn, their purification function can be strongly influenced by the biodiversity that they support. However, there are some difficulties when using CWs to conserve biodiversity because some key characteristics of these engineered ecosystems vary from natural wetlands, including some fundamental ecological processes. Without proper management intervention, these features of CWs can promote biological invasion, as well as form an ‘ecological trap’ for native species. Management options, such as basin-wide integrative management and building in more natural wetland components, can partially offset these adverse impacts. Overall, the awareness of managers and the public regarding the potential value of CWs in biodiversity conservation remains superficial. More in-depth research, especially on how to balance different stakeholder values between wastewater managers and conservationists, is now required.
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