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Historically, the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) of North America was characterized by myriad semi-permanent, seasonal, and temporary wetlands interspersed among rivers in a context of prairie uplands. These wetlands have supported millions of en route and breeding wetland-dependent birds. Today, expanses of the PPR landscape are dominated by intensive agriculture, and many of the remaining habitats have been impacted by altered water regimes, increasing sedimentation, and changes in plant communities. Climate change is likely to cause further alterations by shifting the seasonal availability and distribution of water and vegetation communities. Climate change will also affect the phenology (annual recurrence of phenomena) of vegetation green-up, seed production, and insect emergence. In concert, these changes could alter the capacity of PPR habitats to support waterbirds. Consequently, natural-resource managers and conservation planners in the PPR have an immediate need for effective tools that can evaluate the effects these changes would have on wetland-dependent bird communities.
To that end, a team of U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists and cooperators with expertise in the sciences of climate, hydrology, and ecology has convened to address the potential impacts of climate change on wetland-dependent bird species in the PPR. This team is developing a set of products, including: (1) a synthesis of current knowledge on the interrelationships of climate, wetlands condition, and bird communities; and (2) data on historical and future projections of climate (these projections will be formatted for use in standard mapping software). We will develop models to: (1) forecast effects and biological outcomes of climate change on water quality and quantity in wetlands and riverine ecosystems of the PPR; (2) elucidate relationships between climate, streamflow, water management, and wetland plants; and (3) understand and forecast bird responses to changing habitat conditions and to the timing of resource availability. The outcomes of this research will inform and assist managers and conservation professionals tasked with conserving populations of wetland-dependent birds.