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There is abundant, albeit fragmentary, evidence that prairie wetlands are being contaminated extensively by agricultural pesticides (primarily herbicides and insecticides) and other anthropogenic contaminants. Such inputs can affect fundamental ecosystem properties such as primary production which, in turn, affects habitat and resource supply for wetland fauna. We review data on the use of pesticides, off-site transport of residues from treated land, and the frequency with which these residues are subsequently detected in receiving streams and wetlands on the prairies. As the environmental distribution of a pesticide is affected by its chemical and physical properties, and the abiotic and biotic characteristics of the receiving wetland, greater insight into its ecological impacts will be obtained from considering the underlying partitioning and degradative processes that determine distribution rather than from case-by-case studies of persistence. Future research on chemical contamination of prairie wetlands should include the development and testing of dissipation and fate models under conditions typical of prairie wetlands using a process-oriented approach, emphasizing the roles of adsorption and photolysis in a shallow, high area to volume environment. Output from a computer model based on the fugacity concept (QWASFI: Quantitative Water, Air, Soil, Film Interactions) indicates the potential to predict the environmental behavior of specific chemicals in wetlands.