This article is part of the Spring 2015 issue of the Earth Science Matters Newsletter.
Land-use changes in the Prairie Pothole Region result in significant amphibian habitat losses
Amphibians are an important component of both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. Unfortunately, populations of amphibians have been disappearing from global ecosystems at an alarmingly high rate. Many of the declines in amphibian populations have been attributed to habitat loss due to changes in land-use practices.
In the Prairie Pothole Region, an agriculturally dominated area of approximately 820,000 km2 in the northern Great Plains of North America, land-use changes have resulted in significant habitat loss for amphibians. Here, the agricultural focus has shifted from production of small grains (e.g., wheat and barley) to row crops (e.g., corn and soybeans). Increased profitability associated with row-crop production has led to vast tracts of grasslands being removed from conservation programs (e.g., the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s [USDA’s] Conservation Reserve Program) and returned to crop production. Wetlands and the terrestrial grasslands surrounding wetlands are vital components of the habitat required by amphibians in the northern Great Plains.
USGS research scientists modeled the effects of land-use/land-cover change on amphibian habitats in the Prairie Pothole Region of the northern Great Plains over a six-year period (2007-2012). They also made projections of the results of continued losses of conservation grasslands on the region’s amphibian habitats. Over the six years modeled, amphibian habitats declined by approximately 22%, largely resulting from the conversion of over 1.2 million ha of the region’s conservation grasslands to croplands over the same period. Continued losses of conservation grasslands could result in loss of an additional 26% of currently available amphibian habitat. From a frog’s perspective, this habitat loss translates into a loss of the wetland breeding sites, deep-water and terrestrial overwintering sites, and upland feeding areas needed to maintain populations.
Identifying the significant role that conservation grasslands play in providing habitat for amphibians helps meet the information needs of USDA as they assess the costs and benefits of maintaining conservation grasslands on agricultural landscapes. Information obtained under this effort also will be of use to other federal, state, and non-governmental agencies and organizations interested in sustaining landscapes and ecosystems.
The paper, published in Biological Conservation, is available at: https://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/70102392