Application and Refinement of a Systems Model for Prairie Pothole Wetlands

Science Center Objects

The Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) of North America is one of the most important breeding areas for continental waterfowl populations, a Department of Interior (DOI) trust resource. Land use and climate both influence the functioning of the region’s wetland ecosystems, with effects not just on the waterfowl that depend on these wetlands, but also on the services they provide to society, such as floodwater retention, water-quality improvement, and carbon sequestration. We will be using a recently-developed dynamic systems-model for wetlands of the PPR, with field and remotely-sensed data, to address key science questions related to how wetland ecosystems in the PPR will likely respond under various future land-use and climate scenarios. Information from this effort will be shared with DOI land managers, policymakers, and others interested in developing adaptation and/or mitigation strategies to ensure the sustainability of the Nation’s rich wetland resources and the services they provide to society.

Statement of Problem: Land use and climate change both affect wetland ecosystems of the Prairie Pothole Region, and data on wetland response to recent and ongoing change is needed to inform decisions aimed at adapting to or mitigating impacts on these nationally valued ecosystems. We are using a new dynamic systems model for PPR wetlands to evaluate how land use and climate change are likely to impact wetland communities and the waterfowl populations these wetlands support. We also will use the model to explore how different adaptation and mitigation options might affect regional productivity.

Why this Research is Important: DOI directs considerable financial and personnel resources towards purchasing, managing, conserving, and restoring wetland ecosystems that support waterfowl populations and other biota. Understanding how these systems will change under various land use and climate scenarios is key to maximizing the benefits derived from these ecosystems, given the financial resources invested in them.

Objective(s): The project aims to address the following scientific questions:

  1. What influence do various land-use/land-cover types have on prairie-pothole wetland water budgets?
  2. How will the spatial distribution of suitable waterfowl-habitat potentially shift across the geographic extent of the Prairie Pothole Region under different future-climate scenarios?
  3. What are the influences of land use and climate on the distribution of vegetative zones (i.e., wet-meadow, shallow-marsh, deep-marsh, open-water) within prairie-pothole wetlands and how do changes in these zones influence wetland-habitat quality?
  4. What are the influences of land use and climate on key aquatic-macroinvertebrate communities that support waterfowl populations in prairie-pothole wetlands?
  5. What are the relative roles of land use driven and climate driven influences on prairie-pothole wetland ecosystems?

In addition to addressing these five science questions, this work will also continue data-collection efforts at the Cottonwood Lake Study Area and distribute these key data assets through the Missouri Coteau Wetland Ecosystem Observatory.

Methods: We will combine model runs that simulate effects of different land-cover types and climate scenarios on wetland water volumes, hydroperiods (i.e., the length of time wetlands contain ponded water), vegetation zones and waterfowl populations with collection of data and observations to improve the model and address key questions from land managers. Based on new data and structural equation modeling, we will update and improve the dynamic systems model.