Wetland hydrologic class change from prior to European settlement to present on the Des Moines Lobe, Iowa


It has been hypothesized that wetland restoration policies have favored the restoration of the wettest classes of wetlands on the Des Moines Lobe of the prairie pothole region. To test this hypothesis we compared pre-drainage wetland distributions based on soils data and National Wetland Inventory (NWI) estimates of contemporary wetland distributions on the Des Moines Lobe. Based on the NWI data, the Des Moines Lobe today has only 3–4% of the wetland area that it had prior to the onset of drainage. On the basis of their soils, pre-drainage wetlands were predominantly temporarily flooded to saturated wetlands (84%), with only about 6% of the wetlands with water regimes classified as semi-permanently to permanently flooded. Depending on the interpretation of wetland modifiers on NWI maps, wetlands classified by the NWI as semi-permanent to permanently flooded make up more than 41% of the wetland area while wetlands with temporarily flooded to saturated water regimes account for 45–58% of the Lobe’s wetland area. The water regimes of contemporary wetlands when compared to their historic regimes suggest that many of today’s wetlands have different water regimes than they did prior to the onset of drainage. Because of the regional lowering of the groundwater table, many of today’s wetlands have drier water regimes, but some have wetter water regimes because they receive drainage tile inputs. Our results indicate that restoration has favored the wettest classes of wetlands and that temporarily to saturated wetland classes have not been restored in proportion to their relative abundance in the pre-drainage landscape.

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We thank two anonymous reviewers and editors for suggestions on previous drafts. Support was provided by Ducks Unlimited, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, the United States Department of Agriculture, and by the Graduate College, the Environmental Science Program, the Department of Ecology Evolution and Organismal Biology and the Department of Agronomy at Iowa State University.

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Correspondence to Bradley A. Miller.

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Miller, B.A., Crumpton, W.G. & van der Valk, A.G. Wetland hydrologic class change from prior to European settlement to present on the Des Moines Lobe, Iowa. Wetlands Ecol Manage 20, 1–8 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11273-011-9237-z

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  • National Wetland Inventory
  • Water regime
  • Prairie wetlands
  • Wetland loss
  • Wetland restoration
  • Soils