Effects of land use on greenhouse gas fluxes and soil properties of wetland catchments in the Prairie Pothole Region of North America

Sci Total Environ. 2015 Nov 15:533:391-409. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2015.06.148. Epub 2015 Jul 12.


Wetland restoration has been suggested as policy goal with multiple environmental benefits including enhancement of atmospheric carbon sequestration. However, there are concerns that increased methane (CH4) emissions associated with restoration may outweigh potential benefits. A comprehensive, 4-year study of 119 wetland catchments was conducted in the Prairie Pothole Region of the north-central U.S. to assess the effects of land use on greenhouse gas (GHG) fluxes and soil properties. Results showed that the effects of land use on GHG fluxes and abiotic soil properties differed with respect to catchment zone (upland, wetland), wetland classification, geographic location, and year. Mean CH4 fluxes from the uplands were predictably low (<0.02 g CH4 m(-2) day(-1)), while wetland zone CH4 fluxes were much greater (<0.001-3.9 g CH4 m(-2) day(-1)). Mean cumulative seasonal CH4 fluxes ranged from roughly 0-650 g CH4 m(-2), with an overall mean of approximately 160 g CH4 m(-2). These maximum cumulative CH4 fluxes were nearly 3 times as high as previously reported in North America. The overall magnitude and variability of N2O fluxes from this study (<0.0001-0.0023 g N2O m(-2) day(-1)) were comparable to previously reported values. Results suggest that soil organic carbon is lost when relatively undisturbed catchments are converted for agriculture, and that when non-drained cropland catchments are restored, CH4 fluxes generally are not different than the pre-restoration baseline. Conversely, when drained cropland catchments are restored, CH4 fluxes are noticeably higher. Consequently, it is important to consider the type of wetland restoration (drained, non-drained) when assessing restoration benefits. Results also suggest that elevated N2O fluxes from cropland catchments likely would be reduced through restoration. The overall variability demonstrated by this study was consistent with findings of other wetland investigations and underscores the difficulty in quantifying the GHG balance of wetland systems.

Keywords: Agricultural drainage; Carbon sequestration; Methane; Nitrous oxide; Water-filled pore space; Wetland restoration.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.