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Playas of the Great Plains

LOREN M. SMITH
Copyright Date: 2003
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7560/705340
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    Playas of the Great Plains
    Book Description:

    Shallow wetlands that occur primarily in semi-arid to arid environments, playas are keystone ecosystems in the western Great Plains of North America. Providing irreplaceable habitat for native plants and animals, including migratory birds, they are essential for the maintenance of biotic diversity throughout the region. Playas also serve to recharge the aquifer that supplies much of the water for the Plains states. At the same time, however, large-scale habitat changes have endangered playas across the Great Plains, making urgent the need to understand their ecology and implement effective conservation measures.

    This book provides a state-of-the-art survey of all that is currently known about Great Plains playa ecology and conservation. Loren Smith synthesizes his own extensive research with other published studies to define playas and characterize their origin, development, flora, fauna, structure, function, and diversity. He also thoroughly explores the human relationship with playas from prehistoric times, when they served as campsites for the Clovis peoples, to today's threats to playa ecosystems from agricultural activities and global climate change. A blueprint for government agencies, private conservation groups, and concerned citizens to save these unique prairie ecosystems concludes this landmark study.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79884-7
    Subjects: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. LIST OF TABLES
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. PREFACE
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  6. PLAYAS AND THEIR ENVIRONMENT

    • CHAPTER 1 WHAT IS A PLAYA?
      (pp. 3-28)

      ″Playa″ and its synonym ″playa lake″ are a couple of those vague terms like ″swamp″ or ″marsh″ that are generally used to describe some type of wetland.Playais also a Spanish word with an English translation of shore or beach. The translation provides little help in describing a playa. If the titular question is asked relative to a particular geographic region, such as New Mexico, it becomes somewhat easier to answer, though the result is still not certain. When individuals use wetland terms like swamp, playa, or lake, their intended meaning generally applies to a local region, but to...

    • CHAPTER 2 ORIGIN AND DEVELOPMENT
      (pp. 29-42)

      Although most people from forested and mountainous areas outside of the Plains may find the western prairies aesthetically ″boring,″ geologists consider the High Plains one of the most interesting and challenging arenas in North America. This is especially true of the Southern High Plains, where most playas occur, and where the formation of this huge plateau and its underlying aquifers continue to be discussed. Similarly, unlike other wetlands such as estuaries or prairie potholes, which can be accurately aged in geologic terms and form through known fluvial and glacial events, respectively, the age of playas and the processes responsible for...

  7. ECOSYSTEM ASPECTS

    • CHAPTER 3 FLORA
      (pp. 45-65)

      When most ecologists consider “flora” they usually think of vascular plants; sometimes, as an afterthought, algae come to mind. Fewer yet consider fungi, mosses, bacteria, and viruses even though their diversity may surpass that of the higher taxa (Wilson 1999). There are few studies investigating these latter groups in Great Plains playas and only one mention of lichens; Bartz (1997) noted the occurrence of one ground lichen (Xanthoparmelia wyomingensis) in playas of northeast Wyoming.

      Further, other than the known frequent occurrence of avian botulism (Clostridium botulinum) and avian cholera (Pasteurella multocida) in playas, the primary information regarding playa bacteria is...

    • CHAPTER 4 FAUNA
      (pp. 66-107)

      As with the flora in playas, the animal life existing in these wetlands depends not only on the current playa hydroperiod but also on its historic hydroperiod. Similar to seeds, many invertebrates can remain dormant in playa sediments for decades reflecting past colonization events and hydric conditions (Hairston et al. 1995). Although seeds and invertebrates are generally considered in this light, many amphibians also may remain dormant in playa soils for years, their presence a result of past habitat conditions, with their future dependent on the proper moisture conditions to emerge. Beyond the influence of historic and current hydric conditions...

    • CHAPTER 5 STRUCTURE, FUNCTION, AND DIVERSITY
      (pp. 108-138)

      The entire structure of a playa and its many associated functions can change within a few days. If a playa has been dry for more than a year, often only a thin layer of grass and spindly forbs remain in the basin. Then in early May thunderstorms can occur over the same playa and, more important, over its surroundingwatershed, resulting in the basin being covered with a halfmeter (2 ft) of water. Within days there is an explosion of emerging aquatic invertebrates such as clam shrimp, obligate wetland plants begin germinating, toads and frogs emerge and begin calling in earnest,...

  8. CONSERVATION ASPECTS

    • CHAPTER 6 HISTORICAL, CULTURAL, AND CURRENT SOCIETAL VALUE OF PLAYAS
      (pp. 141-159)

      The value of wetlands to Paleo-Indian cultures, more recent Native Americans, historic European Americans, and today’s society is only now being synthesized. Perhaps because of mid-twentieth-century views of most Great Plains wetlands as impediments to agriculture and as sources of disease, their value and consistent importance to human cultures throughout time has not been fully appreciated (Prince 1997). Indeed, the importance of wetlands to the persistence of Paleo-Indian populations becomes important to current society from a historic/anthropologic standpoint while more recent Native American and European views of wetlands also become significant to us from a cultural-heritage perspective.

      The termPaleo-Indian...

    • CHAPTER 7 THREATS TO PROPER FUNCTION OF PLAYAS
      (pp. 160-176)

      The number and magnitude of threats to wetlands on a global scale is astounding (Mitsch and Gosselink 2000). This assault is no less on playas although the relative importance of certain threats, such as drainage, may be more important in other areas than in the High Plains. The presentation here is not limited to wetland loss, as is done in many government surveys, but continues beyond to all threats that compromise the hydrologic and ecological integrity of the playa wetland system. A partially functioning wetland is better than no wetland, but a partially functioning wetland is not better than a...

    • CHAPTER 8 CONSERVATION PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE
      (pp. 177-201)

      With all of the problems facing wetlands in the Great Plains, there is obviously plenty to do. Initially, the discussion here will focus on planning programs targeted at playas, and those with a regional versus a global scope. Planning programs are agency directives, initiatives, or legislation that can be used to conserve playa wetlands and their associated habitats. Then specific strategies and practices to carry out programs or directives will be suggested. Finally, views on how efforts can be refocused to allow meaningful conservation of playas will be proposed.

      Probably the largest planning efforts regarding regional conservation of playa wetlands...

  9. APPENDIX
    (pp. 202-218)
  10. REFERENCES
    (pp. 219-246)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 247-258)