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Fill Those Potholes! Identifying Ecosystem Services of Small Wetlands on the American Prairie

This article is from Issue Ecosystem Services - Vol. 12 No. 1.

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In this article, scientists explore the different ecosystem services provided by prairie potholes such as soil nutrients, absorbing carbon, and reducing soil erosion.

Welcome to the Ecosystem Services edition!

Note to Educators

Ecosystem Services Lesson Plan


Word Search

Reflection Section Answer Guide

Education Standards Correlations

Additional Resources for this Article:
Meet the scientists that contributed to this article:

"Science Topics" covered in this article:
  • Earth Science
  • Life Science
  • People and Science

"Thinking About Science Themes" covered in this article:
Most scientists, like most people, work as members of an organization. All organizations have a mission. A mission is similar to a goal. Everyone in the organization does their own job to fulfill the mission. Sometimes people in different organizations work with each other. They do this when what they are doing together helps each organization to fulfill its mission. In this study, the scientists worked for different United States agencies (figure 1). These agencies all work to use and sustain the Nation’s natural resources. Even though the agencies all work with natural resources, their missions are different. When scientists work with scientists from other organizations, they can still help their own agencies fulfill their mission. They also save time and money by sharing the work. Whether or not you are a scientist, it makes sense to work with others when you can all achieve your goals by working together. As you read figure 1, compare each agency’s mission. How are the missions alike? How are they different?
Specific "Thinking About Science" Themes:
  • Characteristics of Scientists
  • The Scientific Process

"Thinking About Environmental Themes" covered in this article:
The Prairie Pothole Region of North America is an area of the northern Great Plains (figure 2). This area was once mostly made up of mixed grass and tallgrass prairies (figures 3 and 4). When the glaciers receded 10,000 years ago in this area, they left millions of shallow depressions. These depressions filled with water and are now known as prairie potholes. These potholes are wetlands which provide a temporary home to over 50 percent of North America’s migratory waterfowl. Most of the water found in prairie potholes comes from melting winter snow. In this area of the United States, the soil is good for growing agricultural crops. In the past, farmers drained the potholes to increase the amount of land available to grow crops. Over half of the prairie potholes have been drained. This was not good for the waterfowl who depend on the potholes for breeding habitat, food, and shelter. Government programs now help farmers and landowners restore the prairie potholes to their wetland condition. As wetlands, the potholes do more than provide habitat for waterfowl. In this research, you will learn about other services provided to humans by prairie potholes. These services are known as ecosystem services.
Specific "Thinking About the Environment" Themes:
  • Prairie Pothole regions

NSE Standards covered in this article:
  • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry (A)
  • Nature of science (G)
  • Populations and ecosystems (C)
  • Regulation and behavior (C)
  • Science and technology in society (F)
  • Science as a human endeavor (G)
  • Structure and function in living systems (C)
  • Structure of the earth system (D)