Work performed under USGS contract G08PC91508.
We examined opportunities for avoided loss of wetland carbon stocks in the Great Plains of the United States in the context of future agricultural expansion through analysis of land-use land-cover (LULC) change scenarios, baseline carbon datasets and biogeochemical model outputs. A wetland map that classifies wetlands according to carbon pools was created to describe future patterns of carbon loss and potential carbon savings. Wetland avoided loss scenarios, superimposed upon LULC change scenarios, quantified carbon stocks preserved under criteria of carbon densities or land value plus cropland suitability. Up to 3420 km2 of wetlands may be lost in the region by 2050, mainly due to conversion of herbaceous wetlands in the Temperate Prairies where soil organic carbon (SOC) is highest. SOC loss would be approximately 0.20 ± 0.15 megagrams of carbon per hectare per year (MgC ha−1 yr−1), depending upon tillage practices on converted wetlands, and total ecosystem carbon loss in woody wetlands would be approximately 0.81 ± 0.41 MgC ha−1 yr−1, based on biogeochemical model results. Among wetlands vulnerable to conversion, wetlands in the Northern Glaciated Plains and Lake Agassiz Plains ecoregions exhibit very high mean SOC and on average, relatively low land values, potentially creating economically competitive opportunities for avoided carbon loss. This mitigation scenarios approach may be adapted by managers using their own preferred criteria to select sites that best meet their objectives. Results can help prioritize field-based assessments, where site-level investigations of carbon stocks, land value, and consideration of local priorities for climate change mitigation programs are needed.