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Limited shifts in the distribution of migratory bird breeding habitat density in response to future changes in climate

July 28, 2021

Grasslands, and the depressional wetlands that exist throughout them, are endangered ecosystems that face both climate and land-use change pressures. Tens of millions of dollars are invested annually to manage the existing fragments of these ecosystems to serve as critical breeding habitat for migratory birds. The North American Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) is a region that contains millions of depressional wetlands that produce between 50 and 80% of the continent’s waterfowl population and. Previous modeling efforts suggested that climate change would result in a shift of suitable waterfowl breeding habitat from the central to the southeast portion of the PPR, an area where over half of the wetlands have been drained. The implications of these projections suggest a massive investment in wetland restoration in the southeastern PPR would be needed to sustain waterfowl populations at harvestable levels. We revisited these modeled results indicating how future climate may impact the distribution of waterfowl-breeding habitat using up-to-date climate model projections and a newly developed model for simulating prairie-pothole wetland hydrology. We also presented changes to the number of “May ponds,” a metric used by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to estimate waterfowl breeding populations and establish harvest regulations. Based on the output of 32 climate models and 2 emission scenarios, we found no evidence that the distribution of May ponds would shift in the future. However, our results projected a 17% decrease to 5% increase in May-pond numbers when comparing the most recent climate period (1989–2018) to the end of the 21st century (2070–2099). When combined, our results suggest areas in the PPR that that currently support the highest densities of intact wetland basins, and thus support the largest numbers of breeding-duck pairs, will likely also be the places most critical to maintaining continental waterfowl populations in an uncertain future.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2021
Title Limited shifts in the distribution of migratory bird breeding habitat density in response to future changes in climate
DOI 10.1002/eap.2428
Authors Owen P. McKenna, David M. Mushet, Samuel R. Kucia, Elyssa Christina Mcculloch-Huseby
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecological Applications
Index ID 70227272
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center; North Central Climate Adaptation Science Center