Vulnerability of northern prairie wetlands to climate change

W. Carter Johnson, Bruce V. Millett, Tagir Gilmanov, Richard A. Voldseth, Glenn R. Guntenspergen, David E. Naugle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

304 Scopus citations


The prairie pothole region (PPR) lies in the heart of North America and contains millions of glacially formed, depressional wetlands embedded in a landscape matrix of natural grassland and agriculture. These wetlands provide valuable ecosystem services and produce 50% to 80% of the continent's ducks. We explored the broad spatial and temporal patterns across the PPR between climate and wetland water levels and vegetation by applying a wetland simulation model (WETSIM) to 18 stations with 95-year weather records. Simulations suggest that the most productive habitat for breeding waterfowl would shift under a drier climate from the center of the PPR (the Dakotas and southeastern Saskatchewan) to the wetter eastern and northern fringes, areas currently less productive or where most wetlands have been drained. Unless these wetlands are protected and restored, there is little insurance for waterfowl against future climate warming. WETSIM can assist wetland managers in allocating restoration dollars in an uncertain climate future.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)863-872
Number of pages10
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2005

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by grants from the US Environmental Protection Agency (Habitat and Biological Diversity Research Program) and the US Geological Survey (USGS; Biological Resources Division, Global Change Research Program). Rosemary Carroll and John Tracy of the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nevada, provided groundwater equations for wetland P1. Tom Winter of USGS generously provided water-level and topographic data for wetland P1. We acknowledge the pioneering work of Karen Poiani of The Nature Conservancy in prairie wetland modeling, and George Swanson of the Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center and Tom Winter for their vision in establishing a long-term monitoring program at Cottonwood Lake.


  • Climate change
  • Potholes
  • Prairie wetlands
  • Waterfowl
  • Wetland restoration


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