Wetlands in the Cottonwood Lake area in North Dakota, USA, are underlain by poorly permeable till and have little groundwater input. Lakes and wetlands in the Shingobee River headwaters in Minnesota are underlain by permeable sand and have substantial groundwater input. Hydrological, chemical, and biological characteristics of these ecosystems have been monitored since 1977. Both sites experienced the second worst drought of the 20th century followed by the wettest period in more than a century. At Cottonwood Lake, plants that invaded the dry wetlands during the drought were flooded during the wet period and became a food source for animals. This resulted in successive substantial population increases and declines of plankton, invertebrates, amphibians and waterfowl. Substantial groundwater input buffered the lakes and wetlands in the Shingobee area against the changing water conditions. Only subtle changes in water chemistry and plankton populations were observed during the transition from drought to deluge.