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The Prairie Marsh Monitoring Program

Wetlands are characteristic of the North American prairie and parkland landscape. About 10,000 years ago, when continental ice sheets receded from this region, they left the landscape pocked with countless shallow depressions commonly referred to as 'prairie potholes'. These potholes, permanently or periodically flooded with water, exist as wetlands. Wetlands provide essential ecological goods and they also offer valuable habitat for a diverse array of wildlife.

The same glacial event that created the region's pothole wetlands has contributed to the nutrient rich soils of the North American prairie and parkland. Favourable soil conditions, coupled with a suitable climate, have made this region particularly amenable to human settlement. As a result, the prairie and parkland region has experienced dramatic changes since the turn of the 20th century. Among these changes has been the considerable loss and degradation to wetland habitat, so much so that wetland losses range 50-90% in some areas. Unfortunately, the threat of wetland loss and degradation continues today.


The prairie pothole region has undergone extensive change in the past century. (K. Brewster)

Despite the remarkable landscape-level changes that have been made to prairie and parkland habitats, the area remains among North America's most important regions for birdlife. Pothole wetlands and adjacent uplands are particularly renowned for their significance to support populations of breeding and migrating waterfowl. Because of this, the region has earned the moniker 'the duck factory'. It is intuitive that many of the same features that make this region valuable to waterfowl also make it important to 'waterbirds', an assemblage that includes grebes, herons, rails (the so-called 'marsh birds'), as well as terns, cranes, and others. Over 30 species of waterbirds breed within the prairie and parkland; many of these species are thought to reach their highest densities within the region. Although there is an innate recognition of this region's importance to waterbirds, information regarding population distributions, species-habitat relationships, species abundance, and population trends is limited or completely lacking for many of these species. This gap in our understanding exists because annual or periodic surveys for waterbirds have not been thorough, nor have they occurred consistently. As a result, management agencies are limited in their ability to assess the state of waterbird populations and conservation partners are hindered in their efforts to further develop conservation planning.

In 2007, Bird Studies Canada met with members of the Prairie Habitat Joint Venture to discuss a collaborative effort to address information deficiencies for wetland-associated birds in the prairie and parkland region. As a result of these discussions, and with support from Wildlife Habitat Canada, the Prairie and Parkland Marsh Monitoring Program (Prairie MMP) was established. Currently program activities are geared toward determining the link(s) between waterbird species occurrence and habitat characteristics at various spatial scales. This information will serve efforts to conserve and manage habitats for wetland-associated birds, and represent initial and vital steps toward the development and implementation of a long-term waterbird monitoring program in the region.


Sora rails are commonly encountered during marsh bird surveys. (J. Conkin)

Prairie Marsh Monitoring Program
Bird Studies Canada
115 Perimeter Road
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, S7N 0X4
1-306-249-2894
prairieprograms@birdscanada.org

 

 

This project was undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada.
Ce projet a été réalisé avec l'appui financier du gouvernement du Canada.

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