A recent study conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) found that draining smaller wetlands in North Dakota's stretch of the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) has weakened the ability of wetlands to provide flood control and waterfowl habitat.

"While the loss of small wetlands has its own effect on the ecosystem, consolidation of their water into larger wetlands can fundamentally change valuable ecosystems in the PPR," said Michael Anteau, a USGS scientist and one of the paper's authors.

According to USGS, while smaller, multiple wetlands help store floodwaters until they evaporate or seep underground, the larger, consolidated wetlands are more likely to spill over and allow flooding.

Small wetlands are also more productive for duck breeding. Many waterfowl are territorial, sometimes allowing only a single breeding pair of a species per wetland. Consolidating wetlands into fewer, larger ones limits the number of ducks the water can sustain.

USGS scientists analyzed 80 years of aerial photographs of 141 PPR wetlands in North Dakota for the study. Between 50 and 80 percent of North America's waterfowl populations breed and nest in the PPR.

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