Vegetation of prairie potholes, North Dakota, in relation to quality of water and other environmental factors

Professional Paper 585-D




Measurements of specific conductance provide an adequate indication of the average salinity of surface waters in natural ponds and lakes of the northern .prairie region. Yearly and seasonal variations in specific conductance were much greater in brackish and subsaline wetlands than in fresh-water areas. The principal vegetational types. Land-use practices of varying brackish to saline wetlands were sulfates and chlorides of sodium and magnesium. In less saline waters, carbonate and bicarbonate salts of calcium and potassium were of greater importance, but as salinity increased, the proportion of these compounds decreased rapidly.

A major environmental factor controlling the establishment of marsh and aquatic vegetation is the permanence of surface water. Permanence is a measure of the extent to which surface water persists at a given site. Varying degrees of water permanence during the growing season led to the establishment of distinct vegetational types, which were differentiated primarily on the 'basis of community structure or life form of the dominant vegetation.

Salinity of surface waters was closely correlated with differences in species composition of plant communities found in the principal vegetational types. Land-use practices of varying degrees of intensity also had a secondary influence on species composition. Since an unstable water chemistry is characteristic of most prairie ponds and lakes, it is more reliable to use the plant communities as indicators of average salinity than to use single measurements of specific conductance.

Characteristic species of wetland vegetational types occupied the central deeper parts of pond and lake basins or occurred as concentric peripheral bands. The wetland vegetational types are wetland low-prairie, wet-meadow, shallow-marsh emergent, deep-marsh emergent, fen emergent, submerged and floating, natural drawdown, cropland drawdown, and cropland tillage vegetation. Combinations of species (plant associations) within these vegetational types were placed in one of six salinity categories designated as fresh, slightly brackish, moderately brackish, brackish, subsaline, and saline. Salt tolerance apparently varied greatly among the various marsh and aquatic plants since the num'ber of species represented in moderately brackish to saline communities decreased markedly with increased salinity of the surface water environment.

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Vegetation of prairie potholes, North Dakota, in relation to quality of water and other environmental factors
Series title:
Professional Paper
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Contributing office(s):
Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center, North Dakota Water Science Center, Dakota Water Science Center
35 p.
Larger Work Type:
Larger Work Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Larger Work Title:
Hydrology of prairie potholes in North Dakota