, Volume 36, Supplement 2, pp 323–342 | Cite as

Intermittent Surface Water Connectivity: Fill and Spill Vs. Fill and Merge Dynamics

  • Scott G. LeibowitzEmail author
  • David M. Mushet
  • Wesley E. Newton
Original Research


Intermittent surface connectivity can influence aquatic systems, since chemical and biotic movements are often associated with water flow. Although often referred to as fill and spill, wetlands also fill and merge. We examined the effects of these connection types on water levels, ion concentrations, and biotic communities of eight prairie pothole wetlands between 1979 and 2015. Fill and spill caused pulsed surface water connections that were limited to periods following spring snow melt. In contrast, two wetlands connected through fill and merge experienced a nearly continuous, 20-year surface water connection and had completely coincident water levels. Fill and spill led to minimal convergence in dissolved ions and macroinvertebrate composition, while these constituents converged under fill and merge. The primary factor determining differences in response was duration of the surface water connection between wetland pairs. Our findings suggest that investigations into the effects of intermittent surface water connections should not consider these connections generically, but need to address the specific types of connections. In particular, fill and spill promotes external water exports while fill and merge favors internal storage. The behaviors of such intermittent connections will likely be accentuated under a future with more frequent and severe climate extremes.


Hydrologic connectivity Geographically isolated wetlands Prairie potholes Cottonwood Lake Water level Specific conductance Macroinvertebrate NMS 



We thank James Jawitz, Brian Neff, and two anonymous reviewers for providing valuable comments that improved this paper. Funding to support maintenance of long-term datasets and associated data collection efforts at the CLSA come from the USGS Climate and Land-use Change Mission Area Research and Development Program. All data used in our analyses are openly available through ScienceBase at This manuscript has been subjected to Agency review and has been approved for publication. The views expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Any use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement or recommendation for use by the U.S. Government.


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Copyright information

© US Government 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Scott G. Leibowitz
    • 1
    Email author
  • David M. Mushet
    • 2
  • Wesley E. Newton
    • 2
  1. 1.U.S. Environmental Protection AgencyNational Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory, Western Ecology DivisionCorvallisUSA
  2. 2.U.S. Geological SurveyNorthern Prairie Wildlife Research CenterJamestownUSA

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