Ducks
(Photo credit: U.S. Air Force / Christopher Ball)

Every year, millions of waterbirds swoop into the wetlands of the Great Basin, a region that spans Nevada and parts of neighboring states.

“I think of it as a mosaic of wetlands, where some are freshwater, some are saline, and then there are three or four that are hypersaline, which is they’re saltier than the ocean,” says Susan Haig of Oregon State University.

The saltwater lakes provide abundant food for adult birds. However, baby chicks depend on fresh water because they cannot tolerate salt yet.

But freshwater areas are drying up as the climate warms and more winter precipitation falls as rain instead of snow. That rain soaks into the earth right away, rather than melting gradually and providing water throughout the spring and summer.

Haig says if the Great Basin becomes too dry, or salty, the reproductive success of waterbirds in the Great Basin will take a hit.

“It’s pretty sobering,” she says. “The Great Basin is really such a key place for so many waterbirds that this change as a result of climate is something we’re very concerned about.”

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media.

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