By Scott Stephens
Ducks Unlimited's conservation programs have always had a strong biological foundation. Soon after being founded, the organization was responsible for initiating some of the first surveys of breeding areas across the prairies of the U.S. and Canada to help identify the most critical waterfowl breeding habitat on the continent.
Since then, that tradition has continued, with DU funding hundreds of studies and conducting research of its own to address important information needs. However, the models for how this critical information is obtained are changing in important ways.
Although a great deal of work has been done and many important questions answered, there is still much to learn about how ducks respond to landscape, habitat, and environmental changes.
This is not surprising, considering how complex and dynamic the ecosystems are that waterfowl depend on through their annual cycle. Prairie breeding areas represent a prime example. Consider how diverse wetland conditions are in the prairie region, cycling from years of extreme wet to severe drought. Layer on top of that the changing land-use activities-resulting from changes in farm programs and commodity prices, fluctuating populations of small mammals like voles and mice, and varying levels of diseases such as rabies and mange-that cause fluctuations in predator numbers. Quickly, you have a very complex system that varies both from year to year as well as from site to site.