Date of this Version
Climatic Change (2016) 134:209–223 DOI 10.1007/s10584-015-1534-8
The response of ecosystems to climate warming is likely to include threshold events when small changes in key environmental drivers produce large changes in an ecosystem. Wetlands of the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) are especially sensitive to climate variability, yet the possibility that functional changes may occur more rapidly with warming than expected has not been examined or modeled. The productivity and biodiversity of these wetlands are strongly controlled by the speed and completeness of a vegetation cover cycle driven by the wet and dry extremes of climate. Two thresholds involving duration and depth of standing water must be exceeded every few decades or so to complete the cycle and to produce highly functional wetlands. Model experiments at 19 weather stations employing incremental warming scenarios determined that wetland function across most of the PPR would be diminished beyond a climate warming of about 1.5–2.0 °C, a critical temperature threshold range identified in other climate change studies.