Projects

The PPJV is continually working to strengthen the science foundation for bird habitat conservation. This science focuses on addressing the partnership’s priority information needs for wetland and grassland conservation in the Prairie Pothole Region. Many of these projects seek to improve understanding of species-habitat relationships and quantify impacts to birds from land-use and environmental change. Monitoring and evaluation projects are also vital to help the partnership adaptively refine conservation delivery strategies and important programs. Explore and learn about our exciting Science in Action!

Climate & Land-Use Change

The loss of wetland and grassland habitats from expanding row crop agriculture and energy development are primary land-use changes that impact bird populations in the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR). Additionally, climate change increases uncertainty around future environmental patterns and threatens to intensify recent trends in land-use change and impacts to birds and other wildlife. Synergistic effects between climate and land-use may increase habitat loss and result in decreased resiliency to weather extremes. Consequently, the PPJV partnership has made substantial science investments over the last decade to guide conservation strategies and address land-use change and climate impacts on birds and their habitats in the PPR.

Climate Change & Birds

The potential for climate change to alter wetland hydrology and grassland resiliency and exacerbate impacts on birds from historic habitat loss is a primary concern for the PPJV. Indirect impacts from climate change resulting in warmer temperatures and wetter conditions may support further expansion of row crop agriculture and conversion from grazing-based land uses. Uncertainty related to climate change impacts requires the PPJV partnership to carefully evaluate our conservation strategies to ensure they are based on the best and most recent science, support climate resiliency, and afford opportunities for birds and people in the PPR to adapt to changing environmental conditions. Learn more about climate change, birds, and conservation here:

An Assessment of Re-Directing Breeding Waterfowl Conservation

This paper evaluated the risk of refocusing breeding waterfowl conservation efforts eastward in the PPR due to recent projections of climate change. Findings indicated that unprotected wetland and grassland habitats in the western and central portions of the PPR are important for maintaining waterfowl carrying capacity and productivity, and climate change effects are highly uncertain. Therefore, continuing the current focus of habitat protection appears to be the most cost-effective approach for breeding waterfowl habitat conservation efforts.

Partners: USFWS-HAPET, USDA

Waterfowl Conservation in the US Prairie Pothole Region: Confronting the Complexities of Climate Change

Led by HAPET, this project explored trends in wetland pond numbers, precipitation, and hydroperiod relative to climate change. Overall, it suggested that direct effects of climate change on prairie pothole wetlands and waterfowl may be overshadowed by indirect effects such as intensified land use and increased pressure to drain wetlands.

Partners: USFWS-HAPET, USFWS-Division of Migratory Bird Management

Climate-Proofing Our Prairies

This project seeks to improve the climate resiliency of grassland restoration efforts by developing information and tools to enhance the genetic diversity of prairie restorations and seedings. Check out the great stories produced by this project over at The Nature Conservancy’s website!

Partners: The Nature Conservancy, Wildlife Conservation Society, PPJV

Limited shifts in the distribution of migratory bird breeding habitat density in response to future changes in climate

Previous modeling efforts suggested that climate change would result in a shift of suitable breeding habitat from the central to the southeast portion of the PPR. This research applied new models and climate projections and found no evidence that the distribution of May ponds in the PPR would shift in the future. Areas in the PPR that currently support the highest densities of intact wetland basins, and thus support the largest numbers of breeding-duck pairs, will likely also be the places most critical to maintaining continental waterfowl populations in an uncertain future.

Partners: USGS-NPWRC, USGS-North Central Climate Adaptation Center

Prerequisites for Understanding Climate-Change Impacts on Northern Prairie Wetlands

Previous modeling efforts suggested that climate change would result in a shift of suitable breeding habitat from the central to the southeast portion of the PPR. This research applied new models and climate projections and found no evidence that the distribution of May ponds in the PPR would shift in the future. Areas in the PPR that currently support the highest densities of intact wetland basins, and thus support the largest numbers of breeding-duck pairs, will likely also be the places most critical to maintaining continental waterfowl populations in an uncertain future.

Partners: USGS-NPWRC, USGS-North Central Climate Adaptation Center

Energy Development & Birds

Oil and gas development does not reduce duck pair abundance in the Prairie Pothole Region

Conducted in the Bakken Oil Formation, results of this research were variable but found that changes in duck pair abundance from energy development were relatively small. This research recommends the continued use of existing conservation tools to identify important grassland and wetland resources in the region.

Partners: USFWS-HAPET, Ducks Unlimited, NDGFD, PPJV, Central Flyway Council, Minnesota Research Council

Proximity to oil wells in North Dakota does not impact nest success of ducks but lowers nest densities

Conducted in the Bakken Oil Formation, this research found that duck nest survival was highest at sites with a higher percent of grassland, but detected no effect on nest survival from oil and gas extraction activity. Estimated nest density declined at energy development sites, but there was no evidence that ducks avoided energy infrastructure at smaller scales. These mixed results highlight the resiliency of dabbling ducks to environmental change and the need to continue conserving these landscapes, recognizing that parcels further from oil and gas development may support higher nest densities.

Partners: Louisiana State University, USFWS-HAPET, North Dakota Game and Fish Department, Delta Waterfowl, Ducks Unlimited

Impacts of oil and gas development on duck brood abundance

Conducted in the Bakken Oil Formation, this partnership project observed a negative relationship between brood abundance and oil and gas disturbance. However, predictions suggested that less than 1% of the observed broods were affected. Considering this relatively weak relationship and the consistent role of wetlands as the primary factor influencing brood abundance, authors recommended that managers continue to focus conservation efforts on landscapes with high densities of small, unprotected wetlands, even in the presence of oil and gas development.

Partners: Ducks Unlimited, USFWS-HAPET, North Dakota Game and Fish Department, PPJV, USFWS, Minnesota Research Council, Central Flyway Council

Estimating offsets for avian displacement effects of anthropogenic impacts

This paper describes a method for quantifying the amount of habitat needed to provide equivalent biological value for birds displaced by energy and transportation infrastructure. By converting biological value to traditional units of measure in which land is described and purchased or sold, this framework and decision support tool lends itself readily to the delivery of offsetting measures such as easement protections and restoration projects.

Partners: USGS-NPWRC, USFWS-HAPET, NextEra Energy, Ducks Unlimited, USFWS

Effect of wind energy development on breeding duck densities in the Prairie Pothole Region

This research found that densities of duck pairs on wetlands were generally lower in wind sites. The displacement observed in this study may influence the prioritization of grassland and wetland resources for conservation when existing decision support tools based on breeding-pair density are used. Estimates of displacement provided by this research can be used to inform the development of offset projects for wind energy infrastructure.

Partners: USFWS-HAPET, Ducks Unlimited, USFWS-National Wildlife Refuge System

Influence of Wind Turbines on Presence of Willet, Marbled Godwit, Wilson’s Phalarope and Black Tern on Wetlands in the Prairie Pothole Region of North Dakota and South Dakota

Models indicated that species occurrence varied with wetland characteristics and among sites and years. Occurrence was not substantially reduced on either site but was consistently lower on one of the wind energy sites for three shorebird species. Results suggest that wetlands have conservation value when wind turbines are present, but additional research is needed to better understand other potential and cumulative effects.

Partners: USFWS-HAPET, Ducks Unlimited, USGS-NPWRC, USFWS-National Wildlife Refuge System

The effects of a large-scale wind farm on breeding season survival of female mallards and blue-winged teal in the Prairie Pothole Region

This research identified that collision mortalities for dabbling ducks were rare. The limited number of collisions observed suggests that wind turbines had no direct effect on female duck survival. Conservation strategies that include protection of wetland and grassland habitat in wind-developed landscapes will most likely not cause a reduction in survival of breeding females due to collisions with wind turbines.

Partners: University of North Dakota, Ducks Unlimited, USFWS-National Wildlife Refuge System, USFWS-HAPET, NextEra Energy, USFWS-Mountain-Prairie Region, North Dakota Game and Fish Department

Monitoring & Evaluation

The PPJV’s science foundation and planning tools are used to inform many important conservation programs that restore, enhance, or protect grassland and wetland habitats in the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR). Evaluating the effectiveness of these programs and addressing key planning uncertainties are paramount to implementing strategic habitat conservation. Consequently, the PPJV partnership has a long history in developing robust science to evaluate program outcomes for priority birds. Periodic evaluations and planning updates help the partnership refine conservation programs and adjust to changes in the PPR.

Four-Square-Mile Breeding Waterfowl Survey

Originally designed and implemented by scientists at the Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center in 1987, the Four-Square-Mile Survey (FSMS) is recognized by the PPJV as the primary method to monitor the abundance, distribution, and productivity of breeding waterfowl. The FSMS is coordinated and managed by the USFWS Habitat and Population Evaluation Team and implemented annually. Within the PPR, USFWS staff and collaborators visit 704 survey plots in May and early June to collect field data. Pair survey data are integrated with annual remote sensing of wetland condition to produce estimates of breeding pair abundance for 13 duck species and production estimates for the five most common duck species, as well as wetland habitat conditions for most of the U.S. PPR.

The FSMS protocol was originally designed to understand the contributions of each of three ownership strata (private, USFWS Wetland Easements, and USFWS Fee Title) to the overall population. Beginning in the mid-1990s, FSMS data were used to develop the “Thunderstorm Map” – a well-known decision support tool that identifies priority landscapes for conservation actions to benefit breeding waterfowl. Numerous additional applications of FSMS data have developed over the years, extending the purpose of the FSMS beyond its original intent. Data collected from these surveys have now become a primary source for a variety of spatial modeling products that guide easement acquisition, evaluate conservation program outcomes, describe wetland dynamics in the PPR, and inform models for non-game birds. The FSMS and its products were models for the concept of Strategic Habitat Conservation adopted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and PPJV as a conservation framework.

Conservation Trends

The PPJV partnership has been immensely effective at putting habitat conservation on the landscape to benefit priority birds. However, important grassland and wetland habitats continue to be lost and impacted throughout the region. Measuring conservation successes against rates of land-use change and habitat loss is a key part of sustaining bird populations in the PPR. Monitoring land-use change, habitat availability, and periodic assessments of the conservation estate are required to adapt conservation strategies to the realities of current environmental and socioeconomic forces that impact birds and their habitats.

Conservation Planning in an Era of Change: State of the U.S. Prairie Pothole Region

This seminal project assessed attainability of landscape-level conservation goals in the PPR by summarizing data on the status, trends, and potential future of grasslands and wetlands. Results indicated consistent declines in grassland and wetland area and clearly demonstrated that time, along with status and trends of target habitats, must be incorporated when setting realistic habitat conservation goals. PPJV partners cannot reach stated conservation goals given current habitat loss rates unless: 1) increased funding is secured for land conservation, 2) landowner interest and acceptance of conservation programs remains high, and 3) wetland and grassland loss rates are decreased via public policy, particularly through agriculture programs. Consequently, the PPJV partnership is working diligently to increase funding opportunities and engage landowners in voluntary conservation for wetland and grassland habitats.

Partners: PPJV, USFWS-HAPET

USDA Farm Bill Conservation Programs

Programs such as USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) are essential for sustaining grassland and wetland birds in the PPR. The PPJV partnership has worked diligently to evaluate and quantify the biological outcomes from these programs. Learn more about this research here:

Assessing the Biological Benefits of the USDA-Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) for Waterfowl and Grassland Passerines in the Prairie Pothole Region of the United States

This project applied models of species-habitat relationships to estimate the benefits of CRP grasslands to five waterfowl and ten grassland songbird species. Results indicated that CRP grasslands increased the carrying capacity of associated PPR wetlands for breeding waterfowl by approximately 200,000 pairs and produced an additional 1.5 million waterfowl recruits per year – equaling 12.3 million waterfowl recruits from 2005 to 2011. Benefits to grassland songbirds were variable across species and ecoregions, ranging from supporting over 34% of the Le Conte’s Sparrow population to 6% of the Grasshopper Sparrow population in the PPR. For seven grassland songbird species, nine million birds were dependent on CRP in the tallgrass and mixed grass ecoregions of the PPR. Additionally, indirect benefits from CRP grasslands were found to extend beyond the CRP parcels for most species, indicating extensive value-added landscape context benefits for grassland birds.

Partners: USFWS-HAPET, Ducks Unlimited, PPJV, USDA-FSA

The Farm Bill and Duck Production in the Prairie Pothole Region: Increasing the Benefits

This research identified locations in the PPR where CRP cover would be accessible to the greatest number of nesting hens, demonstrating that 75% of CRP contracts were in areas accessible to high or medium numbers of breeding ducks. It also provides a method to prioritize existing or new CRP contracts to maintain or increase duck production. These models suggested that if the Swampbuster provision were removed from future Farm Bills and protected wetlands were drained, the PPR of North and South Dakota could experience a 37% decline in waterfowl populations.

Partners: USFWS-HAPET, USGS-NPWRC

Social Science

Understanding private landowner and agricultural producer values and attitudes toward conservation programs can greatly help the partnership refine such programs to be more effective. Additionally, retaining and recruiting hunters and other bird enthusiasts to support vital conservation funding and programs is needed to deliver effective conservation in the PPR. The PPJV partnership is increasingly working to better understand stakeholder values and attitudes through social science.

Farmer Preferences for a Working Wetlands Program

This study investigated producer preferences for a voluntary program that compensates farmers for maintaining working wetlands on their land. Research showed that an increase in payment and absence of additional conservation production requirements in surrounding cropland increases the probability of enrollment. Ranchers were more responsive to increases in payment rate than farmers without cows, and farmers were more likely to enroll in a program when they perceived an important effect on water quality. Results were used to inform the development of a working wetland program with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Partners: North Dakota State University, Delta Waterfowl, PPJV

Landowners Attitudes Towards the Conservation Reserve Program and Working Wetlands

This experiment estimated the likelihood of enrollment in a hypothetical working wetlands program. Findings indicated that landowners preferred shorter contract lengths, higher rental rates, midterm adjustment rather than a fixed rate contract, the right to conduct managed burning on their lands containing program wetlands, and no conservation practice requirement.

Partners: North Dakota State University, Delta Waterfowl, PPJV

Conservation Reserve Program enrollment decisions in the Prairie Pothole Region

This paper considers the influence of contract design on CRP enrollment decisions and estimates the trade-offs between rental rates and program attributes. Findings indicated that rental payment and establishment cost paid by the government had a direct relationship with the likelihood of program enrollment. Generally, farmers were willing to take a lower rental payment under program conditions they considered more favorable, including an increased government share for stand establishment and a flexible land use policy.

Partners: North Dakota State University, St. Ambrose University, Delta Waterfowl, PPJV

Delta Waterfowl University Hunting Program

This program is administered in over 30 universities in North America to expose natural resource conservation students to hunting and the important role hunters play in conservation and wildlife management. The University Hunting Program provides students with the opportunity to complete a hunter safety course, develop shooting skills, and participate in a waterfowl hunt on a privately managed property. Students also take part in a post-hunt meal of the game harvested to demonstrate that handling, cleaning, and cooking is an integral part of the hunting experience. To evaluate program effectiveness, Delta administers pre- and post-hunt surveys to evaluate participant attitudes and values. This information will continue to help improve and refine hunter recruitment and retention programs.

Grasslands & Birds

The grasslands of the PPR are some of the most iconic landscapes in North America. Unfortunately, grasslands are also one of the most threatened habitats worldwide, as over 40% have already been plowed to make way for crops. This loss continues in the PPR and throughout the Great Plains, with significant impacts to grassland species. Today, grassland birds are among the most imperiled group of birds in the United States, where total populations have declined more than 40% since 1966. The PPJV partnership is working diligently to enhance and inform grassland conservation at regional and continental scales.

Grassland Birds

Grassland birds are experiencing dramatic population losses, declining faster than any other bird group over the last 40 years. The Northern Great Plains, including the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR), contain the highest diversity of grassland bird species on the continent, and the PPR hosts substantial portions of sixteen grassland bird populations. Two of the primary drivers of population declines are grassland loss and landscape fragmentation due to row crop intensification and pesticide exposure. Grassland conservation is therefore a high priority for the PPJV partnership. Learn more about PPJV science projects for grassland bird conservation here:

A Full Annual-Cycle Conservation Strategy for Sprague’s Pipit, Chestnut-collared and McCown’s Longspurs, and Baird’s Sparrow.

This conservation strategy was developed with over 20 state, federal, and NGO partners across the Great Plains of North America, with support from the PPJV Technical Committee. The goal was to outline information and recommended actions needed to slow, and ideally reverse, observed population declines for four grassland nesting birds of conservation concern. Information provided in the strategy facilitates effective and efficient conservation of the four species at a continental scale and can help prevent federal level listings under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

Partners: USFWS-Migratory Birds and PPJV (project leads)

Developing Spatial Models to Guide Conservation of Grassland Birds in the U.S. Northern Great Plains.

This project combined data from the North American Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) with local and remotely sensed environmental data to model the distribution of seven grassland bird species in the Northern Great Plains. These updated models account for observer and survey design factors, use survey point data, and incorporate refined habitat and environmental data, greatly increasing the predictive power of BBS models. Analyzing data at the survey point level is consistent with the scale of conservation treatments that are typically applied and helps avoid information loss caused by pooling data at the BBS route level. The decision support tools derived from these models can be used to target areas for conservation treatments and to assess the conservation actions of multiple conservation programs and Joint Ventures.

Partners: USFWS-HAPET, PPJV, Rainwater Basin JV, USGS, USDA

Using Grassland Birds to Inform CRP (Active Project).

The PPJV and USFWS-HAPET have worked closely with USDA-FSA to explore approaches and develop science-based models that can inform placement and retention of CRP to benefit grassland birds. Fields et al. (2019) developed density and distribution models for nine grassland songbird species. Building off this work, HAPET and PPJV are working with USDA to develop a simple, transparent, and biologically defensible process whereby landscapes can be evaluated and prioritized to increase the wildlife benefits of grassland restoration through CRP. A flexible yet consistent decision-support framework is envisioned from this work that can be applied across broad spatial extents (i.e., multiple states), but can easily incorporate additional information to accommodate priorities or conditions that vary geographically. Additionally, this project will develop a national land cover map to identify potentially native grasslands that have never been broken for other uses.

Habitat Targets for Imperiled Grassland Birds in Northern Mixed-Grass Prairie.
Most previous results of songbird associations with vegetation attributes have been difficult to translate into management practices due to mismatch between the scale and metrics used in biological sampling and those used in management. This project evaluated the response of imperiled grassland bird species to vegetation conditions using metrics and scales accessible to managers. Variable results among songbird species emphasized the need for heterogeneity in vegetation structure and composition at scales larger than the plot.

Partners: Montana State University, USFWS-Migratory Birds, USFWS-Partners for Fish and Wildlife, PPJV

Spatially Explicit Habitat Models for Prairie Grouse: Implications for Improved Population Monitoring and Targeted Conservation.

This collaborative project evaluated improved methods for estimating the distribution and abundance of prairie grouse in South Dakota and North Dakota. Results were consistent with prairie grouse biology, showing strong selection for grasslands and avoidance of developed areas. This approach provides several avenues to estimate relative abundance of males, and spatially explicit habitat models developed from this project can be valuable tools to identify and prioritize areas for habitat conservation treatments.

Partners: South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks, USFWS-HAPET, PPJV, North Dakota Game and Fish Department

Evaluating potential ecological traps for Thick-billed Longspur in the Dry Mixed Grass region of the PPR (Active Project)

The specific drivers of population decline for Thick-billed Longspurs (formerly McCown’s Longspur) are largely unknown due to very limited demographic and vital rate information throughout the annual cycle. This project aims to assess nesting status and reproductive success to determine whether longspurs using fallow fields and cropland are experiencing an ecological trap. Demographic information will also be collected on longspurs nesting in native grasslands as a control and potential baseline for comparison to those nesting in planted and fallow fields. This project was initiated in 2020 and will be ongoing through 2022.

Partners: Montana State University, USFWS-Migratory Birds, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, PPJV

Grassland Assessments

Understanding the distribution and trends of grassland habitats is pivotal to inform conservation programs in the PPR. Because habitat loss impacts grassland birds throughout their annual cycle in North America, it is important to understand these habitat trends from a full annual cycle perspective.

Grassland Assessment of North American Great Plains Migratory Bird Joint Ventures.

The PPJV conducted a grassland assessment in coordination with seven other North American Migratory Bird JVs within the Great Plains. This assessment used time-series landcover data to spatially identify potentially undisturbed lands (PUDL), which were defined as grass, shrub, or wetland complexes with no history of agricultural cultivation or development. The analysis estimated grassland loss rates, compared those to grassland protection efforts, and projected those rates into the future. Results indicated that PUDL represented 51% of the study area and estimated an average grassland loss rate across all eight JVs of -0.98% per year. Undisturbed grassland loss rates were highest in the PPJV (-0.65% to -2.27%). This analysis and the resulting spatial layers support conservation in a variety of ways that are unique to each JV as well as the overall goal of full annual-cycle conservation for priority grassland birds.

Partners: PPJV, Prairie Habitat JV, Norther Great Plains JV, Rainwater Basin JV, Playa Lakes JV, Oaks and Prairies JV, Rio Grande JV, Sonoran JV, USDA-FSA, ConocoPhillips

Wetlands & Birds

The Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) is recognized as the most critical region to breeding ducks in North America, comprising 50–80% of continental duck production. The millions of wetlands that dot the PPR and its associated uplands make it one of the most unique and productive landscapes for waterfowl as well as over 35 species of shorebirds and waterbirds. These wetlands also support millions of birds outside of the breeding season – particularly during spring migration as they travel to breeding grounds further north. However, wetland loss has been substantial in PPR states (35 – 99% loss), where wetland drainage and consolidation have escalated in recent decades with impacts to wetland birds. Science-based research and evaluation of PPR wetlands and bird populations has long been a foundation for strategic habitat conservation in the region.

Wetland Values in Crop-Dominated Landscapes

Research has demonstrated the importance of PPR wetlands within crop dominated landscapes. These wetlands are often at high risk of drainage and are frequently impacted from tillage and sedimentation. Despite these impacts, they still provide important resources for breeding and migrating birds in the PPR as well as other wildlife, including pollinators. The PPJV is committed to better understanding these relationships and values to guide effective conservation efforts in these highly modified landscapes. Learn more about recent projects here:

Factors Affecting Wetland Use by Spring Migrating Ducks in the Southern Prairie Pothole Region.

There is growing recognition of the importance of PPR wetlands to spring migrating ducks. However, conservation and management of wetlands in the southern PPR has traditionally focused on breeding habitats, and little research has examined how migrating ducks use these wetlands. This project conducted weekly surveys on wetlands during spring to examine factors affecting duck use of wetlands in the intensively modified Iowa PPR and inform wetland restoration and conservation strategies. Results suggested that semi‐permanent wetlands within the PPR play a key role in transitioning birds from wintering areas to breeding areas. Management of semi‐permanent wetlands should promote interspersion of emergent vegetation, open water, and growth of submersed aquatic plants to improve their function for migrants.

Partners: Iowa State University, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, PPJV

Duck brood use of wetlands in crop-dominated landscapes within the United States Prairie Pothole Region

This project assessed the factors influencing wetland use by duck broods in the PPR portions of Iowa and Minnesota, where wetland loss has been extensive. Results suggest wetlands in farmed landscapes can support key invertebrate forage for ducklings. Findings support the conservation and restoration of small wetlands in crop-dominated landscapes as an effective waterfowl conservation strategy in this region where wetland resources are relatively limited.

Partners: Iowa State University, Ducks Unlimited, PPJV

Exploring the nexus between water-quality and waterbird habitat conservation in the Iowa Prairie Pothole Region (Active Project)

Within the eastern PPR, state and federal agencies, NGOs, and agricultural producers have increasingly been investing in wetland conservation to improve water quality. This project seeks to assess the avian values of wetlands that are created or restored to receive water from drain tile. This research compliments a range of PPJV research and planning priorities that could help advance collaborative efforts for wetland conservation in these landscapes targeting waterfowl and water quality. This project was initiated in 2021 and will be ongoing through 2024.

Partners: Iowa State University, Ducks Unlimited, PPJV

Wetland Science

The PPJV is continually working to enhance the science foundation for wetland conservation in the PPR. Advances in remote sensing technologies and analytics are providing exciting opportunities to further the understanding of seasonal and annual dynamics of wetland resources as well as evaluate wetland restoration opportunities across the PPR.

Automating measurement of wetland ponding in the PPR (Active Project)

Within the PPR, conservation planning tools for wetland birds rely on long-term averages of wetland inundation. While this metric has provided support for decades of valuable conservation work, it has been challenging to integrate the yearly and seasonal wet-dry cycles of wetlands. Although many of the PPR’s wetlands have been mapped through the National Wetlands Inventory, this static data layer does not provide information on potential availability (i.e., wetness or ponding) to waterbirds. Other surveys that aim to capture wetland dynamics are either coarse in spatial resolution or collected only during spring. Information is lacking on wetland availability during the summer brood-rearing period, which arguably provides data more relevant to the ultimate vital rate of interest in the breeding season – recruitment rates. This project aims to help solve this problem by generating a remote sensing-derived Google Earth Engine web-tool for mapping surface water area that is specifically tuned to the needs of conservation managers in the PPR.

Partners: Ducks Unlimited, University of Texas at Austin, PPJV

Quantifying Potentially Restorable Wetlands in South Dakota (Active Project)

Historical wetland loss in eastern South Dakota has been substantial. The National Wetlands Inventory mapped existing wetlands in this region around 1985; at that time, an estimated 35% of wetland area had been drained. These drained basins remain unmapped, limiting voluntary conservation opportunities. Tile drainage, surface ditching of wetlands, and grassland conversion have expanded in the region over the past decade. These land-use changes have resulted in reduced wetland availability for wildlife and reduced ecosystem services. Scientists need data of the distribution and extent of wetlands in the PPR – both current and historical – to inform voluntary wetland and grassland conservation efforts, evaluate the potential to restore wetlands and associated ecosystem services, and improve hydrologic models. This project will use remote sensing technologies and analytical frameworks to develop a geodatabase of drained wetlands and restoration potential that will inform wetland-grassland conservation programs.

Partners: South Dakota State University, South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks, PPJV, USFWS-Migratory Birds/Science Applications, USFWS-Inventory and Monitoring Program, Natural Resource Conservation Service (SD), East Dakota Water Development District

Species-Habitat Relationships

Empirical and conceptual models of species-habitat relationships are a hallmark of Strategic Habitat Conservation and a cornerstone for developing conservation objectives and strategies.  Consequently, the PPJV continues to invest in applied science to refine the understanding of species-habitat relationships for wetland and grassland birds across the PPR and evaluate critical planning assumptions that affect conservation strategies.

Inconsistent Relationships between duck nest survival and perennial cover in the U.S. PPR (Active Project)

Conservation plans designed to sustain North American duck populations prominently feature a key hypothesis stating that the amount of perennial cover surrounding upland duck nests positively influences nest survival rates. Recent conflicting findings create uncertainty regarding which management actions to pursue and where to prioritize conservation delivery. This project compared models explaining spatiotemporal variation in nest survival using independent data documenting the fate of over 20,000 duck nests found within two regions of the U.S. PPR. Results suggest an inconsistent relationship between perennial cover and survival of upland duck nests, which depended upon physiographic region as well as landscape and environmental conditions. Promoting conversion of cropland to grassland in landscapes dominated by croplands or grasslands may realize greater incremental benefits to nest survival compared to those landscapes with an intermediate amount (30–60%) of perennial cover. Continued efforts to promote perennial cover may have inconsistent but situationally positive effects on duck nest survival.

Partners: USGS-NPWRC, PPJV