Great Lakes Michigan Wetlands

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Climate Change in Michigan
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Climate Change Impacts:
Wetlands and Shorebirds

Increased evaporation due to a warmer climate will likely shrink wetland habitat. Although new wetlands may be created along lake edges as water levels drop, earlier spring runoff, more intense flooding, and lower summer water levels generally translate into growing challenges for Michigan wetlands, such as Saginaw Bay, and the species that depend on them. Development and agriculture have already significantly reduced wetland habitat and the services they provide. Climate change will magnify these existing pressures and threatens to further degrade the services wetland ecosystems provide—such as water purification and flood control. Among the potential impacts of climate change with implications for wetlands and shorebirds in Michigan are:

  • A Reduction in Flood-Absorbing Capacity
    Central Michigan WetlandThe combined pressures of development and climate change will degrade the flood-absorbing capacity of wetlands and floodplains. This could lead to increased erosion, additional water pollution, and delayed recovery from acid rain.

  • A Loss of Safe Breeding Sites
    Wetland losses and changes in the timing and severity of flood patterns will likely reduce safe breeding sites for amphibians and waterfowl. These changes may also cause many migratory species such as Canada geese to winter further north.

  • The Release of Nutrients and Heavy Metals
    Fluctuations in water levels and soil moisture influence the release of nutrients and heavy metals. Lower water levels expose more organic wetland soils to oxygen and may reduce mercury exports, but also may reduce the removal of nitrate from the soil. Increased oxygen concentrations in exposed soils, especially when accompanied by acid precipitation, may release metals such as cadmium, copper, lead, and zinc, and wetlands downstream of industrial effluents could face increased risk of heavy metal contamination during periods of low water.

Photo Credits:
Moose -- USDA Forest Service, Superior National Forest.
Central Michigan Wetland -- Lynn Betts (Courtesy of NRCS).
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