Preparing for an uncertain future: Migrating shorebird response to past climatic fluctuations in the Prairie Potholes

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The Prairie Pothole Region, situated in the northern Great Plains, provides important stopover habitat for migratory shorebirds. During spring migration in the U.S. Prairie Potholes, 7.3 million shorebirds refuel in the region's myriad small, freshwater wetlands. Shorebirds use mudflats, shorelines, and ephemeral wetlands that are far more abundant in wet years than dry years. Generally, climate change is expected to bring warmer temperatures, seasonality shifts, more extreme events, and changes to precipitation. The impacts to wetland habitats are uncertain. In the Prairie Potholes, earlier spring onset and warmer temperatures may advance drying of wetlands or, alternately, increased spring precipitation may produce abundant shallow‐water habitats. To look at the availability of habitats for migratory shorebirds under different climate regimes, we compared habitat selection between a historic wet year and a dry year using binomial random‐effects models to describe local and landscape patterns. We found that in the dry year shorebirds were distributed more northerly and among more permanent wetlands, whereas in the wet year shorebirds were distributed more southerly and among more temporary wetlands. However, landscape‐scale variation played a larger role in the dry year. At the local wetland scale, shorebirds selected similarly between years—for shallower wetlands and wetlands in croplands. Overall, while shorebirds were sensitive to local habitat conditions, they exhibited a degree of adaptive capacity to climate change impacts by their ability to shift on the landscape. This indicates an avenue through which management decisions can enhance climate change resilience for these species given an uncertain future—by preserving shallow‐water wetlands in croplands throughout the landscape.

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Preparing for an uncertain future: Migrating shorebird response to past climatic fluctuations in the Prairie Potholes
Series title Ecosphere
DOI 10.1002/ecs2.2095
Volume 9
Issue 2
Year Published 2018
Language English
Publisher Ecological Society of America
Contributing office(s) Fort Collins Science Center
Description e02095; 12 p.
First page 1
Last page 12
Country United States
Other Geospatial Prairie Pothole Region
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