The amount of water held in individual wetland basins depends not only on local climate patterns but also on groundwater flow regime, soil permeability, and basin size. Most wetland basins in the northern prairies hold water in some years and are dry in others. To assess the potential effect of climate change on the number of wetland basins holding water in a given year, one must first determine how much of the variability in number of wet basins is accounted for by climatic variables. I used multiple linear regression to examine the relationship between climate variables and percentage of wet basins throughout the Prairie Pothole Region of Canada and the United States. The region was divided into three areas: parkland, Canadian grassland, and United States grassland (i.e., North Dakota and South Dakota). The models - which included variables for spring and fall temperature, yearly precipitation, the previous year's count of wet basins, and for grassland areas, the previous fall precipitation - accounted for 63 to 65% of the variation in the number of wet basins. I then explored the sensitivities of the models to changes in temperature and precipitation, as might be associated with increased greenhouse gas concentrations. Parkland wetlands are shown to be much more vulnerable to increased temperatures than are wetlands in either Canadian or United States grasslands. Sensitivity to increased precipitation did not vary geographically. These results have implications for waterfowl and other wildlife populations that depend on availability of wetlands in the parklands for breeding or during periods of drought in the southern grasslands.
Additional publication details
Effects of climate on numbers of northern prairie wetlands