Wetlands are abundant throughout the prairie pothole region (PPR), an area comprising over 700,000 km2 in central North America. Prairie wetland communities are strongly influenced by regional physiography and climate, resulting in extreme spatial and temporal variability relative to other aquatic ecosystems. Given the strong influence of abiotic factors, PPR wetland communities have been viewed traditionally in the context of their responses to chemical and physical features of landscape and climate. Although useful, this physical-chemical paradigm may fail to account for ecosystem variability due to biotic influences, particularly those associated with presence of fish. Spatial and temporal variability in fish populations, in turn, may reflect anthropogenic activities, landscape characteristics, and climate-mediated effects on water levels, surface connectivity, and hydroperiods. We reviewed studies assessing influences of fish on prairie wetlands and examined precipitation patterns and biological data from PPR wetlands in east-central North Dakota and western Minnesota, USA. Our review and analysis indicated that native fish influence many characteristics of permanently flooded prairie wetlands, including water clarity and abundance of phytoplankton, submerged macrophytes, and aquatic invertebrates. We suggest that ecologists and managers will benefit from conceptual paradigms that better meld biotic interactions associated with fish, and perhaps other organisms, with chemical and physical influences on prairie wetland communities.
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Vol. 25 • No. 3