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Preserving soil organic carbon in prairie wetlands of central North America

June 30, 2021

Wetlands of the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) in the Great Plains of central North America are numerous, densely distributed, and have highly productive plant and animal communities (Photo 49). When in a natural, unaltered condition, these wetlands store relatively large amounts of organic carbon in their soils (Photo 50). Human alterations, such as extensive drainage and land-use conversion for agriculture (Figure 7), have been linked with the loss of soil organic carbon (SOC) and associated emission of carbon dioxide (CO2), as well as impacts to other ecosystem services provided by these wetlands, such as wildlife and waterfowl habitat, plant biodiversity, flood mitigation, groundwater recharge, nutrient removal and retention, and recreation (Gleason et al., 2011). It has been estimated that more than half of the wetlands of the PPR have been lost due to drainage and other disturbances, with losses approaching 90 percent in some areas (Dahl, 2014; Serran et al., 2018). The goal of this case study was to identify land-management strategies that are consistent with maintaining and increasing SOC stocks of PPR wetlands.

Two overarching strategies generally are promoted to preserve and enhance SOC stocks of PPR wetlands: avoided drainage and rewetting or restoration. Avoided drainage involves protecting natural, unaltered wetlands from impacts of human actives with the purpose of retaining wetland functions and services such as carbon storage. Rewetting or restoration involves reestablishing natural hydrology and land use with the purpose of enhancing wetland functions and services that were previously lost due to human activities. Avoided drainage provides immediate and long-lasting benefits, while replenishing SOC through rewetting and restoration requires many decades. Both strategies are associated with higher methane (CH4) emissions but lower CO2 and nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions.

Publication Year 2021
Title Preserving soil organic carbon in prairie wetlands of central North America
Authors Sheel Bansal, Brian Tangen
Publication Type Book Chapter
Publication Subtype Book Chapter
Index ID 70224287
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center