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Environ Sci Technol. 2014 Apr 15;48(8):4282-8. doi: 10.1021/es404883s. Epub 2014 Mar 31.

Land use and conservation reserve program effects on the persistence of playa wetlands in the High Plains.

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  • 1Department of Zoology, Oklahoma State University , Stillwater, Oklahoma 74078, United States.


Watershed cultivation and subsequent soil erosion remains the greatest threat to the service provisioning of playa wetlands in the High Plains. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) plants perennial vegetation cover on cultivated lands including playa watersheds, and therefore, the program influences sediment deposition and accumulation in playas. Our objective was to measure the effects of the CRP on sediment deposition by comparing sediment depth and present/historic size characteristics in 258 playas among three High-Plains subregions (northern, central, and southern) and the three dominant watershed types: cropland, CRP, and native grassland. Sediment depth and resultant volume loss for CRP playas were 40% and 57% lower than cropland playas, but 68% and 76% greater than playas in native grassland. Playas in CRP had remaining volumes exceeding those of cropland playas. Grassland playas had nearly three times more original playa volume and 122% greater wetland area than CRP playas. Overall, playas were larger in the south than other subregions. Sediment depth was also three times greater in the south than the north, which resulted in southern playas losing twice as much total volume as northern playas. However, the larger southern playas provide more remaining volume per playa than those in other subregions. The results of this study demonstrate the importance of proper watershed management in preserving playa wetland ecosystem service provisioning in the High Plains. Furthermore, we identify regional differences in playas that may influence management decisions and provide valuable insight to conservation practitioners trying to maximize wetland services with limited resources.

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