, Volume 36, Supplement 2, pp 273–285 | Cite as

Climate Change Effects on Prairie Pothole Wetlands: Findings from a Twenty-five Year Numerical Modeling Project

  • W. Carter JohnsonEmail author
  • Karen A. Poiani
Original Research


This paper reviews the findings of a 25-year project (1990–2015) that has examined the potential effects of climate change on the vegetation structure, hydrologic function, and biodiversity of wetlands in the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) of North America. The numerical modeling component of the project developed in phases, beginning with the building of a single basin model (WETSIM), followed by a multiple-basin model (WETLANDSCAPE-WLS), and ending with applications of a comprehensive WLS model to specific wetland issues: ecological thresholds and early detection of effects. Coincident with model development was the establishment of a long-term wetland monitoring field site (Orchid Meadows) that includes 18 years of continuous surface and groundwater data on a wetland complex. Also during the project, an intensive study of the historic climate of the PPR was conducted. Model simulations support the following conclusions: prairie wetlands are highly sensitive to climate change; a warmer climate without more precipitation will shrink the effective wetland area of the PPR and reduce waterfowl habitat; strong climatic gradients across the PPR, especially the strong east to west decline in precipitation, complicate the response of PPR wetlands to climate change and approaches to mitigation.


Waterfowl habitat Wetland dynamics Thresholds Modeling history 



Many sources have funded our research over the years. Without their support, our project could not have been initiated or continued. These sources were: U. S. Environmental Protection Agency Global Change Program, Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program, and Habitat and Biological Diversity Research Program; U. S. Geological Survey Biological Resources Division Climate Change Program; U. S Fish and Wildlife Service; U. S. National Biological Survey Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center; South Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station; Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.

We gratefully acknowledge the hydrologic data and advice on hydrologic monitoring provided early in the project by Tom Winter and Don Rosenberry of the USGS. George Swanson of the Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center deserves special thanks at the start for encouragement, generous support, and wetland data. A field visit by Carter Johnson and George to the Cottonwood Lake Area in the late 1980s was the first step taken on this long journey. About 20 scientists became co-authors on our research papers, and these are identified in the following literature cited section. Many others contributed new ideas, critical review, intellectual support, and collegiality to our project including: Jennifer Olker, Arnold van der Valk, Masaki Hayashi, Garth van der Kamp, Janet Keough, Chris Wright, Carol Johnston, Susan Skagen, Liu Ganming, Eugene Takle, Lucinda Johnson, Ben Rashford, and Richard Adams. Still others including Tom Tornow, Kyle Kelsey, Susan Boettcher, Craig Olawsky, Jim Lynch, Brett Werner, Tor Johnson and Tellef Johnson assisted in the Orchid Meadows wetland monitoring project that produced critically important data to build and test our wetland models.


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Copyright information

© Society of Wetland Scientists 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Natural Resource ManagementSouth Dakota State UniversityBrookingsUSA
  2. 2.Island ConservationCaliforniaUSA

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