Quantifying geographic variation in the climatic drivers of midcontinent wetlands with a spatially varying coefficient model

PLoS One. 2015 Apr 27;10(4):e0126961. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0126961. eCollection 2015.


The wetlands in the Prairie Pothole Region and in the Great Plains are notorious for their sensitivity to weather variability. These wetlands have been the focus of considerable attention because of their ecological importance and because of the expected impact of climate change. Few models in the literature, however, take into account spatial variation in the importance of wetland drivers. This is surprising given the importance spatial heterogeneity in geomorphology and climatic conditions have in the region. In this paper, I use spatially-varying coefficients to assess the variation in ecological drivers in a number of ponds observed over a 50-year period (1961-2012). I included the number of ponds observed the year before on a log scale, the log of total precipitation, and mean maximum temperature during the four previous seasons as explanatory variables. I also included a temporal component to capture change in the number of ponds due to anthropogenic disturbance. Overall, fall and spring precipitation were most important in pond abundance in the west, whereas winter and summer precipitation were the most important drivers in the east. The ponds in the east of the survey area were also more dependent on pond abundance during the previous year than those in the west. Spring temperature during the previous season influenced pond abundance; while the temperature during the other seasons had a limited effect. The ponds in the southwestern part of the survey area have been increasing independently of climatic conditions, whereas the ponds in the northeast have been steadily declining. My results underline the importance of accounting the spatial heterogeneity in environmental drivers, when working at large spatial scales. In light of my results, I also argue that assessing the impacts of climate change on wetland abundance in the spring, without more accurate climatic forecasting, will be difficult.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Climate*
  • Geography
  • Models, Theoretical
  • North America
  • Ponds
  • Wetlands*

Grants and funding

This work was supported by a BMP-Innovation Scholarship funded by by Ducks Unlimited Canada , the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Le Fonds québécois de la recherche sur la nature et les technologies during this research. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.