Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Spring 1998


Published in Great Plains Research 8 (Spring 1998):57-72. Copyright © 1998 The Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska – Lincoln. Used by permission.


Agricultural applications of fertilizers and pesticides have increased dramatically in the prairie pothole region since the middle 1960s, and agrochemical contamination of surface and groundwater has become a serious environmental concern. There is growing interest in the potential of prairie wetlands as sinks for excess nutrients in this agricultural landscape. As much as 50% of the fertilizer nitrogen applied to cultivated crops may be lost as nitrate in agricultural drainage water, and prairie wetlands may be especially effective as nitrate sinks. The effectiveness of prairie wetlands as sinks for nonpoint source nitrogen loads is likely to depend on the magnitude of nitrate loads and the capacity of the wetlands to remove nitrate by dissimilatory processes. Performance forecast models are needed to evaluate the effectiveness of prairie wetlands as nitrogen sinks from a watershed scale framework. This will be made significantly more difficult by the spatial and temporal complexity of prairie pothole wetlands and by their hydrologic diversity. Future research should focus on identifying the principal factors controlling nitrogen transformation in prairie wetlands and on developing general predictive tools for modeling nitrogen fate in these systems.