Climatic Change

, Volume 40, Issue 2, pp 343-369

First online:

Potential Effects of Global Warming on Waterfowl Populations Breeding in the Northern Great Plains

  • Lisa G. SorensonAffiliated withSchool of Natural Resources and Environment, University of MichiganDepartment of Biology, Boston University
  • , Richard GoldbergAffiliated withCenter for Climate Systems Research, Columbia University
  • , Terry L. RootAffiliated withSchool of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan
  • , Michael G. AndersonAffiliated withDucks Unlimited Canada, Institute for Waterfowl and Wetland Research

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The Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) of the Northern Great Plains is the most important breeding area for waterfowl in North America. Historically, the size of breeding duck populations in the PPR has been highly correlated with spring wetland conditions. We show that one indicator of climate conditions, the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI), is strongly correlated with annual counts (from 1955 to 1996) of both May ponds (R2 = 0.72, p < 0.0001) and breeding duck populations (R2 = 0.69, p < 0.0001) in the Northcentral U.S., suggesting the utility of PDSI as an index for climatic factors important to wetlands and ducks. We then use this relationship to project future pond and duck numbers based on PDSI values generated from sensitivity analyses and two general circulation model (GCM) scenarios. We investigate the sensitivity of PDSI to fixed changes in temperature of 0°C, +1.5°C, +2.5°C, and +4.0°C in combination with fixed changes in precipitation of -10%, +0%, +7%, and +15%, changes spanning the range of typically-projected values for this region from human-induced climatic change. Most (11 of 12) increased temperature scenarios tested result in increased drought (due to greater evapotranspiration under warmer temperatures) and declining numbers of both wetlands and ducks. Assuming a doubling of CO2 by 2060, both the equilibrium and transient GCM scenarios we use suggest a major increase in drought conditions. Under these scenarios, Northcentral U.S. breeding duck populations would fluctuate around means of 2.1 or 2.7 million ducks based on the two GCMs, respectively, instead of the present long-term mean of 5.0 million. May pond numbers would fluctuate around means of 0.6 or 0.8 million ponds instead of the present mean of 1.3 million. The results suggest that the ecologically and economically important PPR could be significantly damaged by climate changes typically projected. We make several recommendations for policy and research to help mitigate potential effects.

effects of global warming drought climate change Prairie Pothole Region waterfowl waterfowl breeding ecology wetlands