Duck populations as indicators of landscape condition in the Prairie Pothole Region

Jane E. Austin, Thomas K. Buhl, Glenn R. Guntenspergen, Wayne Norling, H. Thomas Sklebar

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25 Scopus citations


The Prairie Pothole Region of the northern Great Plains is an important region for waterfowl production because of the abundance of shallow wetlands. The ecological significance of the region and impacts from intensive agriculture prompted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to select it as one of the first areas for developing and evaluating ecological indicators of wetland condition. We examined hypothesized relations between indicators of landscape and wetland conditions and waterfowl abundance on 45 40km2 study sites in North Dakota for 1995-1996. Landscape condition was defined a priori as the ratio of cropland area to total upland area surrounding wetlands. Measures of waterfowl abundance included estimated numbers of breeding pairs (by species and total numbers) and γ, a species-specific correction factor which effectively adjusts breeding pair estimates for annual or area-related differences in pond size. Landscape indicators and waterfowl measures varied among regions. Results indicated that most areas in the Coteau region are of much higher quality for ducks than those in the Drift Plain, and areas in the Red River Valley are of the poorest quality for ducks. Regression models demonstrated the impact of agricultural development on breeding duck populations in the Prairie Pothole Region. The most consistent landscape indicators of waterfowl abundance were percent of cropland and grassland. Models were inconsistent among years and species. The potential biotic indicators of landscape and wetland condition examined here would be appropriate for temporal trend analyses, but because of inherent geographic variability would not be appropriate for single-year geographic trend analyses without more extensive evaluations to improve explanatory models.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)29-48
Number of pages20
JournalEnvironmental Monitoring and Assessment
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2001

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service co-sponsored this research. L. M. Cowardin designed the sampling frame and procedures. D. Buhl and W. Newton provided statistical assistance. Order of coauthors was alphabetical. We thank D. Naugle, R. Reynolds, and M. Sovada for comments on earlier drafts.


  • Dabbling duck population
  • Indicator
  • Landscape condition
  • North Dakota
  • Prairie pothole region
  • Wetlands


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