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Scientific Investigations Report 2015–5004

Prepared in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and North Dakota State University

Climate Change and Prairie Pothole Wetlands—Mitigating Water-Level and Hydroperiod Effects Through Upland Management

By David A. Renton, David M. Mushet, and Edward S. DeKeyser

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (3.6 MB)Abstract

Prairie pothole wetlands offer crucial habitat for North America’s waterfowl populations. The wetlands also support an abundance of other species and provide ecological services valued by society. The hydrology of prairie pothole wetlands is dependent on atmospheric interactions. Therefore, changes to the region’s climate can have profound effects on wetland hydrology. The relevant literature related to climate change and upland management effects on prairie pothole wetland water levels and hydroperiods was reviewed. Climate change is widely expected to affect water levels and hydroperiods of prairie pothole wetlands, as well as the biota and ecological services that the wetlands support. In general, hydrologic model projections that incorporate future climate change scenarios forecast lower water levels in prairie pothole wetlands and longer periods spent in a dry condition, despite potential increases in precipitation. However, the extreme natural variability in climate and hydrology of prairie pothole wetlands necessitates caution when interpreting model results. Recent changes in weather patterns throughout much of the Prairie Pothole Region have been in increased precipitation that results in increased water inputs to wetlands above losses associated with warmer temperatures. However, observed precipitation increases are within the range of natural climate variability and therefore, may not persist. Identifying management techniques with the potential to affect water inputs to prairie pothole wetlands would provide increased options for managers when dealing with the uncertainties associated with a changing climate. Several grassland management techniques (for example, grazing and burning) have the potential to affect water levels and hydroperiods of prairie pothole by affecting infiltration, evapotranspiration, and snow deposition.

First posted February 6, 2015

For additional information contact:
Director, Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
U.S. Geological Survey
8711 37th Street Southeast
Jamestown, North Dakota 58401

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Suggested citation:

Renton, D.A., Mushet, D.M., and DeKeyser, E.S., 2015, Climate change and prairie pothole wetlands—Mitigating water-level and hydroperiod effects through upland management: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2015–5004, 21 p.,

ISSN 2328-031X (print)

ISSN 2328-0328 (online)




Climate Change Effects on Prairie Pothole Wetland Hydrology

Upland Management Effects on Prairie Pothole Wetland Hydrology


References Cited

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Page Last Modified: Friday, February 06, 2015, 10:57:19 AM