Playa Wetland Restoration Prioritization: Accounting for Legacy Effects of Hydrologic Modification and Intensifying Drought

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Micah T. Russell , Jennifer M. Cartwright , Gail H. Collins, Ryan A. Long, & Jan H. Eitel

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Prioritizing resources for wetland restoration must increasingly account for the legacies of previous land-use practices and ongoing climate change. Playa wetlands provide critical seasonal habitat for wildlife, but may be impacted by historic hydrologic modifications and intensifying droughts. To support restoration planning, we asked: (1) what are the trends in playa inundation? (2) what are the factors influencing inundation? (3) how is playa inundation affected by increasingly severe drought? (4) do certain playas provide hydrologic refugia during droughts, and (5) if so, how are refugia patterns related to historical modifications? We evaluated a 30-year time series (1985 – 2015) of inundation using remotely-sensed surface-water data for 153 playas of the Great Basin, USA. Inundation likelihood and duration were greatest in modified playas and increased with wetter weather. Inundation probability was projected to decrease from 22% in average years to 11% in extreme drought, with a respective decrease in annual wetted duration from 1.7 to 0.9 months. We determined that only 4% of playas qualified as drought refugia (inundated for at least 2 months in each of the 5 driest years). Although refugial playas were larger and more likely to have been modified, this may be because land managers selected refugial playas for modification. These inundation patterns will inform efforts to restore and conserve wetland functions at sites across two large national wildlife refuges as the climate changes. In addition, the remote sensing methods employed allowed for landscape-scale habitat assessment, while also providing a framework for continued monitoring and evaluation.

Resource Type:
Conference Presentation, SER2021

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