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Keywords:

  • wetland;
  • prairie;
  • hydrology;
  • land use;
  • infiltration;
  • grassland

Abstract

At the St Denis National Wildlife Area in the prairie region of southern Saskatchewan, Canada, water levels in wetlands have been monitored since 1968. In 1980 and 1983 a total of about one-third of the 4 km2 area was converted from cultivation to an undisturbed cover of brome grass. A few years after this conversion all the wetlands within the area of grass dried out; they have remained dry since, whereas wetlands in adjacent cultivated lands have held water as before. Field measurements show that introduction of undisturbed grass reduces water input to the wetlands mainly through a combination of efficient snow trapping and enhanced infiltration into frozen soil. In winter, the tall brome grass traps most of the snowfall, whereas in the cultivated fields more wind transport of snow occurs, especially for short stubble and fallow fields. Single-ring infiltration tests were conducted during snowmelt, while the soil was still frozen, and again in summer. The infiltrability of the frozen soil in the grassland is high enough to absorb most or all of the snowmelt, whereas in the cultivated fields the infiltration into the frozen soil is limited and significant runoff occurs. In summer, the infiltrability increases for the cultivated fields, but the grassland retains a much higher infiltrability than the cultivated land. The development of enhanced infiltrability takes several years after the conversion from cultivation to grass, and is likely due to the gradual development of macropores, such as root holes, desiccation cracks, and animal burrows. Copyright ©2002 Crown in the right of Canada. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.