Climatic Change

, Volume 145, Issue 3–4, pp 273–287 | Cite as

Evidence for a climate-induced ecohydrological state shift in wetland ecosystems of the southern Prairie Pothole Region

  • Owen P. McKennaEmail author
  • David M. Mushet
  • Donald O. Rosenberry
  • James W. LaBaugh


Changing magnitude, frequency, and timing of precipitation can influence aquatic-system hydrological, geochemical, and biological processes, in some cases resulting in system-wide shifts to an alternate state. Since the early 1990s, the southern Prairie Pothole Region has been subjected to an extended period of increased wetness resulting in marked changes to aquatic systems defining this region. We explored numerous lines of evidence to identify: (1) how the recent wet period compared to historical variability, (2) hydrological, geochemical, and biological responses, and (3) how these responses might represent a state shift in the region’s wetland ecosystems. We analyzed long-term climate records and compared how different hydrological variables responded in this wet period compared to decades before the observed shift. Additionally, we used multi-decadal records of waterfowl population and subsurface tile drain records to explore wildlife and human responses to a shifting climate. Since 1993, a novel precipitation regime corresponded with increased pond numbers, ponded-water depths, lake levels, stream flows, groundwater heights, soil-moisture, waterfowl populations, and installation of subsurface tile drains in agricultural fields. These observed changes reflect an alteration in water storage and movement across the landscape that in turn has altered solute sources and concentrations of prairie-pothole wetlands and has increased pond permanence. Combined, these changes represent significant evidence for a state shift in the ecohydrological functioning of the region’s wetland ecosystems, a shift that may require a significant refinement of the previously developed “wetland continuum” concept.



We thank Kyle McLean for feedback on figures and analysis, Natalie McKenna for copyediting, Matt Solensky for collecting and maintaining data from CLSA, and Christopher Mills and three anonymous individuals for providing their constructive reviews of our manuscript. Data from Cottonwood Lake Study Area wetlands are publically available through the Missouri Coteau Wetland Ecosystem Observatory ( and maintained through funding received from the U.S. Geological Survey’s Climate Research and Development Program. Any use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the US government.

Supplementary material

10584_2017_2097_MOESM1_ESM.docx (294 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 293 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht (outside the USA) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Owen P. McKenna
    • 1
    Email author
  • David M. Mushet
    • 1
  • Donald O. Rosenberry
    • 2
  • James W. LaBaugh
    • 3
  1. 1.U.S. Geological Survey, Northern Prairie Wildlife Research CenterJamestownUSA
  2. 2.U.S. Geological SurveyLakewoodUSA
  3. 3.U.S. Geological SurveyRestonUSA

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