Adaptation of Farming Practices Could Buffer Effects of Climate Change on Northern Prairie Wetlands

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Grassland Management, Grazing, Land Use, Mitigation, Prairie Pothole Region, Wetland Modeling


Wetlands of the Prairie Pothole Region of North America are vulnerable to climate change. Adaptation of farming practices to mitigate adverse impacts of climate change on wetland water levels is a potential watershed management option. We chose a modeling approach (WETSIM 3.2) to examine the effects of changes in climate and watershed cover on the water levels of a semi-permanent wetland in eastern South Dakota. Land-use practices simulated were unmanaged grassland, grassland managed with moderately heavy grazing, and cultivated crops. Climate scenarios were developed by adjusting the historical climate in combinations of 2uC and 4uC air temperature and 610% precipitation. For these climate change scenarios, simulations of land use that produced water levels equal to or greater than unmanaged grassland under historical climate were judged to have mitigative potential against a drier climate. Water levels in wetlands surrounded by managed grasslands were significantly greater than those surrounded by unmanaged grassland. Management reduced both the proportion of years the wetland went dry and the frequency of dry periods, producing the most dynamic vegetation cycle for this modeled wetland. Both cultivated crops and managed grassland achieved water levels that were equal or greater than unmanaged grassland under historical climate for the 2uC rise in air temperature, and the 2uC rise plus 10% increase in precipitation scenarios. Managed grassland also produced water levels that were equal or greater than unmanaged grassland under historical climate for the 4°C rise plus 10% increase in precipitation scenario. Although these modeling results stand as hypotheses, they indicate that amelioration potential exists for a change in climate up to an increase of 2°C or 4°C with a concomitant 10% increase in precipitation. Few empirical data exist to verify the results of such land-use simulations; however, adaptation of farming practices is one possible mitigation avenue available for prairie wetlands.

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