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Climate Change in Minnesota
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Climate Change Impacts:
Wetlands and Shorebirds

Earlier spring runoff, more intense flooding, and lower summer water levels generally translate into growing challenges for Minnesota bogs and wetlands and the species that depend on them. Development and agriculture have already reduced wetland habitat by approximately half. The increasing pressures of climate change stand to considerably 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 Minnesota are:

  • The Release of Carbon Dioxide
    Peatlands store vast amounts of carbon, which would otherwise be released into the atmosphere. Minnesota has more peatlands than any other state in the U.S. If the water tables fall—as projected as a result of higher temperatures and increased evaporation—the carbon dioxide released from the peatlands would contribute to climate change.

  • A Reduction of Flood-Absorbing Capacity
    The 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 Wetland Habitat and Breeding Sites
    Minnesota Wetlands (Voyageurs National Park)Wetland loss and changes in flood pulses will likely reduce safe breeding sites for amphibians, migratory shorebirds including some warblers, and waterfowl such as canvasbacks, and may cause many migratory species, such as Canada geese to winter further north. The Yellow headed blackbird is an example of a species that—once abundant throughout the southern parts of Minnesota—now faces regional extinction due to loss of contiguous habitat. Wetland species already threatened by loss of habitat will be further stressed by changes in climate.

  • A Loss of Prairie Pothole Habitat
    Although new wetlands may be created along lake edges as water levels drop, established wetlands provided by prairie potholes are likely to disappear due to increased rates of evaporation. These areas are crucial breeding habitat for waterfowl and many have already been altered or destroyed by agricultural and other land-use practices. Today, only an estimated 40-50% of original prairie pothole wetlands remain.

Photo Credits:
Loon -- US Fish and Wildlife Service, Art Weber.
Minnesota Wetlands (Voyageurs National Park) -- National Park Service Digital Image Archives
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