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Chemical and biotic characteristics of prairie lakes and large wetlands in south-central North Dakota—Effects of a changing climate

September 28, 2015

The climate of the prairie pothole region of North America is known for variability that results in significant interannual changes in water depths and volumes of prairie lakes and wetlands; however, beginning in July 1993, the climate of the region shifted to an extended period of increased precipitation that has likely been unequaled in the preceding 500 years. Associated changing water volumes also affect water chemical characteristics, with potential effects on fish and wildlife populations. To explore the effect of changing climate patterns, in 2012 and 2013, the U.S. Geological Survey revisited 167 of 178 prairie lakes and large wetlands of south-central North Dakota that were originally sampled in the mid-1960s to mid-1970s. During the earlier sampling period, these lakes and wetlands displayed a great range of chemical characteristics (for example, specific conductance ranged from 365 microsiemens per centimeter at 25 degrees Celsius to 70,300 microsiemens per centimeter at 25 degrees Celsius); however, increased water volumes have resulted in greatly reduced variation among lakes and wetlands and a more homogeneous set of chemical conditions defined by pH, specific conductance, and concentrations of major cations and anions. High concentrations of dissolved solids previously limited fish occurrence in many of the lakes and wetlands sampled; however, freshening of these lakes and large wetlands has allowed fish to populate and flourish where they were previously absent. Conversely, the freshening of previously saline lakes and wetlands has resulted in concurrent shifts away from invertebrate species adapted to live in these highly saline environments. A shift in the regional climate has changed a highly diverse landscape of wetlands (fresh to highly saline) to a markedly more homogeneous landscape that has reshaped the fish and wildlife communities of this ecologically and economically important region.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2015
Title Chemical and biotic characteristics of prairie lakes and large wetlands in south-central North Dakota—Effects of a changing climate
DOI 10.3133/sir20155126
Authors David M. Mushet, Martin B. Goldhaber, Christopher T. Mills, Kyle I. McLean, Vanessa M. Aparicio, R. Blaine McCleskey, JoAnn M. Holloway, Craig A. Stockwell
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2015-5126
Index ID sir20155126
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center