Patterns and drivers for wetland connections in the Prairie Pothole Region, United States

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Abstract

Ecosystem function in rivers, lakes and coastal waters depends on the functioning of upstream aquatic ecosystems, necessitating an improved understanding of watershed-scale interactions including variable surface-water flows between wetlands and streams. As surface water in the Prairie Pothole Region expands in wet years, surface-water connections occur between many depressional wetlands and streams. Minimal research has explored the spatial patterns and drivers for the abundance of these connections, despite their potential to inform resource management and regulatory programs including the U.S. Clean Water Act. In this study, wetlands were identified that did not intersect the stream network, but were shown with Landsat images (1990–2011) to become merged with the stream network as surface water expanded. Wetlands were found to spill into or consolidate with other wetlands within both small (2–10 wetlands) and large (>100 wetlands) wetland clusters, eventually intersecting a stream channel, most often via a riparian wetland. These surface-water connections occurred over a wide range of wetland distances from streams (averaging 90–1400 m in different ecoregions). Differences in the spatial abundance of wetlands that show a variable surface-water connection to a stream were best explained by smaller wetland-to-wetland distances, greater wetland abundance, and maximum surface-water extent. This analysis demonstrated that wetland arrangement and surface water expansion are important mechanisms for depressional wetlands to connect to streams and provides a first step to understanding the frequency and abundance of these surface-water connections across the Prairie Pothole Region.

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Vanderhoof, M. K., Christensen, J. R., & Alexander, L. C. (2017). Patterns and drivers for wetland connections in the Prairie Pothole Region, United States. Wetlands Ecology and Management, 25(3), 275–297. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11273-016-9516-9

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