Future losses of playa wetlands decrease network structure and connectivity of the Rainwater Basin, Nebraska
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The Rainwater Basin in south-central Nebraska once supported a complex network of ~ 12,000 spatially-isolated playa wetlands, but ~ 90% have been lost since European settlement. Future losses are likely and expected reductions in connectivity could further isolate populations, increasing local extinction rates of many wetland species. However, to what extent future losses will affect wildlife likely depends on the role of lost wetlands in maintaining connectivity.
We compared the current Rainwater Basin network to future wetland loss scenarios to assess minimum, mean, and maximum effects of losses on network connectivity for a range of wildlife taxa.
We used network models to rank wetlands by their functionality and relative importance in maintaining connectivity. We then removed 10–50% of high-ranked, low-ranked, or random subsets of wetlands and assessed connectivity of the remaining network.
A 10% loss of highly-ranked wetlands substantially decreased connectivity for species with dispersal capabilities < 5.5 km, while a 40–50% loss reduced connectivity for all tested dispersal distances (0.5–12.0 km). When large proportions of highly-ranked wetlands were lost, the eastern and western halves of the Rainwater Basin network were no longer connected for any dispersal distance. Loss of low-ranked wetlands had minimal effects on network connectivity, until at least the lowest-ranked 50% were removed.
Many highly-ranked playa wetlands in the Rainwater Basin are currently unprotected and might disappear from the landscape. Protecting wetlands that are key in maintaining connectivity especially benefits species with limited dispersal capabilities (< 5.5 km) for which consequences of future habitat losses might be worst.
KeywordsConnectivity Dispersal distance Habitat fragmentation Habitat loss Network modeling Playa wetlands Rainwater Basin Nebraska Resilience
This study was funded by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Great Plains Landscape Conservation. Cooperative research and National Science Foundation Macrosystems (Grant No. 1544083) grants administered through the U.S. Geological Survey Fort Collins Science Center and the Kansas. Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit. All raw data used in this study were derived from online public sources. We are grateful for additional support provided by Chris Wright and the Division of Biology at Kansas State University. We thank J.M. Gehrt, J.S. Lamb, J.B. Malanchuk, B.E. Ross, D.S. Sullins, and E.L. Weiser for helpful suggestions and feedback on previous versions of the manuscript. Any use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.
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