Predicted Effect of Landscape Position on Wildlife Habitat Value of Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program Wetlands in a Tile-drained Agricultural Region


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Justification for investment in restored or constructed wetland projects are often based on presumed net increases in ecosystem services. However, quantitative assessment of performance metrics is often difficult and restricted to a single objective. More comprehensive performance assessments could help inform decision-makers about trade-offs in services provided by alternative restoration program design attributes. The primary goal of the Iowa Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program is to establish wetlands that efficiently remove nitrates from tile-drained agricultural landscapes. A secondary objective is provision of wildlife habitat. We used existing wildlife habitat models to compare relative net change in potential wildlife habitat value for four alternative landscape positions of wetlands within the watershed. Predicted species richness and habitat value for birds, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles generally increased as the wetland position moved lower in the watershed. However, predicted average net increase between pre- and post-project value was dependent on taxonomic group. The increased average wetland area and changes in surrounding upland habitat composition among landscape positions were responsible for these differences. Net change in predicted densities of several grassland bird species at the four landscape positions was variable and species-dependent. Predicted waterfowl breeding activity was greater for lower drainage position wetlands. Although our models are simplistic and provide only a predictive index of potential habitat value, we believe such assessment exercises can provide a tool for coarse-level comparisons of alternative proposed project attributes and a basis for constructing informed hypotheses in auxiliary empirical field studies.