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Scientific Name: Western Great Plains Closed Depression Wetland & Playa
Unique Identifier: CES303.666
Classification Confidence: 2 - Moderate

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Summary: Communities associated with the playa lakes in the southern areas of this province and the rainwater basins in Nebraska characterize this system. They are primarily upland depressional basins. This hydric system is typified by the presence of an impermeable layer such as a dense clay, hydric soil and is usually recharged by rainwater and nearby runoff. They are rarely linked to outside groundwater sources and do not have an extensive watershed. Ponds and lakes associated with this system can experience periodic drawdowns during drier seasons and years, and are often replenished by spring rains. Eleocharis spp., Hordeum jubatum, along with common forbs such as Coreopsis tinctoria, Symphyotrichum subulatum (= Aster subulatus), and Polygonum pensylvanicum (= Polygonum bicorne) are common vegetation in the wetter and deeper depression, while Pascopyrum smithii and Buchloe dactyloides are more common in drier playas such as shallow depressions in rangeland. Species richness can vary considerably among individual examples of this system and is especially influenced by adjacent land use, which is often agriculture, and may provide nutrient and herbicide runoff. Dynamic processes that affect these depressions are hydrological changes, grazing, and conversion to agricultural use. Additional species found in Texas examples include Ambrosia grayi, Chenopodium leptophyllum, Helianthus ciliaris, Heteranthera limosa, Marsilea vestita, Oenothera canescens, Panicum obtusum, Phyla nodiflora, Sagittaria longiloba, Schoenoplectus spp., and Typha domingensis.

Classification Approach: International Terrestrial Ecological Systems Classification (ITESC)

Classification Comments: Open and emergent marshes may be a separate system from wet meadows and wet prairies. This system needs to be more clearly distinguished from the similar open depressional wetlands of the western Great Plains, as well as from Great Plains Prairie Pothole (CES303.661).

Similar Ecological Systems
Unique Identifier Name
CES300.729 North American Arid West Emergent Marsh
CES301.197 Tamaulipan Closed Depression Wetland
CES303.669 Western Great Plains Saline Depression Wetland
CES303.675 Western Great Plains Open Freshwater Depression Wetland
CES304.998 Inter-Mountain Basins Alkaline Closed Depression

Component Associations
Association Unique ID Association Name
CEGL001366 Sarcobatus vermiculatus / Leymus cinereus Wet Shrubland
CEGL001573 Panicum obtusum - Buchloe dactyloides Wet Meadow
CEGL001575 Panicum obtusum - Panicum hallii Wet Meadow
CEGL001580 Pascopyrum smithii - Distichlis spicata Wet Meadow
CEGL001581 Pascopyrum smithii - Eleocharis spp. Wet Meadow
CEGL001582 Pascopyrum smithii - Hordeum jubatum Wet Meadow
CEGL001586 Schoenoplectus americanus - Eleocharis spp. Marsh
CEGL001639 Pleuraphis mutica - Panicum obtusum Grassland
CEGL002038 Pascopyrum smithii - Buchloe dactyloides - (Phyla cuneifolia, Oenothera canescens) Wet Meadow
CEGL002039 Polygonum spp. - Echinochloa spp. - Distichlis spicata Playa Lake Wet Meadow
CEGL002223 Spartina pectinata - Eleocharis spp. - Carex spp. Wet Meadow
CEGL002239 Pascopyrum smithii - (Elymus trachycaulus) Clay Pan Wet Meadow
CEGL002259 Eleocharis palustris - (Eleocharis compressa) - Leptochloa fusca ssp. fascicularis Marsh
CEGL002279 Heteranthera limosa - Bacopa rotundifolia - Sagittaria latifolia Marsh
CEGL005286 Hordeum jubatum Great Plains Wet Meadow
CEGL005291 Eleocharis palustris Great Plains Marsh


Land Cover Class: Herbaceous Wetland
Spatial Pattern: Small patch
Natural/Seminatural: No
Vegetated ( > 10% vascular cover):
Upland: No
Wetland: Yes
Isolated Wetland: Strictly Isolated

Non-diagnostic Classifiers
Primary Classifier Secondary Classifier
Lowland Lowland
Isolated Wetland Strictly Isolated
Clay Subsoil Texture  
Impermeable Layer  
Saturated Soil  

At-Risk Species Reported for this Ecological System
Scientific Name
  (Common Name)
NatureServe Global Status U.S. Endangered Species Act Status
Ambrosia linearis
  (Linear-leaf Bursage)
Branchinecta potassa
  (Potassium Loving Fairy Shrimp)

Vegetation Composition (incomplete)
Species Name Rounded Global Status Growth Form Stratum Char-
Domi-nant Con-stant
Cover Class %
Coreopsis tinctoria G5 Flowering forb Herb (field)    
Polygonum pensylvanicum G5 Flowering forb Herb (field)    
Symphyotrichum subulatum G5 Flowering forb Herb (field)    
Buchloe dactyloides G4 Graminoid Herb (field)    
Eleocharis palustris G5 Graminoid Herb (field)    
Hordeum jubatum G5 Graminoid Herb (field)    
Panicum obtusum G5 Graminoid Herb (field)    
Pascopyrum smithii G5 Graminoid Herb (field)    

Animal Species Reported for this Ecological System
Scientific Name
  (Common Name)
Global Status U.S. Endangered Species Act Status Charact-
Ambystoma mavortium
  (Barred Tiger Salamander)
Anaxyrus cognatus
  (Great Plains Toad)
Anaxyrus woodhousii
  (Woodhouse's Toad)
Branchinecta potassa
  (Potassium Loving Fairy Shrimp)
Spea bombifrons
  (Plains Spadefoot)
Thamnophis radix
  (Plains Gartersnake)

Color legend for Distribution Map
Nation: United States
United States Distribution: CO, KS, MT, NE, NM, OK, SD, TX, WY
Global Range: This system can be found throughout the eastern portion of the Western Great Plains Division, however, it is most prevalent in the central states of Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. In addition, it does occur farther to the west, in central and eastern Montana and eastern Wyoming.

Biogeographic Divisions
Division Code and Name Primary Occurrence Status
205-Eastern Great Plains P: Predicted or probable
303-Western Great Plains C: Confident or certain

The Nature Conservancy's Conservation Ecoregions
Code Name Occurrence Status
26 Northern Great Plains Steppe Confident or certain
27 Central Shortgrass Prairie Confident or certain
28 Southern Shortgrass Prairie Confident or certain
32 Crosstimbers and Southern Tallgrass Prairie Predicted or probable
33 Central Mixed-Grass Prairie Confident or certain

MRLC 2000 Mapzones
Code Name Occurrence Status
20 Missouri River Plateau Possible
22 Wyoming Basin Confident or certain
25 Rio Grande Basin Possible
26 Chihuahuan Desert Predicted or probable
29 Wyoming Highlands Predicted or probable
30 Northwestern Great Plains Predicted or probable
31 Sandhills Predicted or probable
32 Southeastern Great Plains Predicted or probable
33 Western Great Plains Confident or certain
34 Southern Great Plains Confident or certain
35 Edwards Plateau Possible
36 Western Gulf Plains Predicted or probable
38 Eastern Great Plains Confident or certain

National Mapping
ESLF Code (Ecological System Lifeform): 9252

West Landfire Legend: No
East Landfire Legend: No

Element Description Edition Date: 02Oct2014
Element Description Author(s): S. Menard, K. Kindscher, J. Drake

Ecological data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs) and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).

  • Bolen, E. G., C. D. Simpson, and F. A. Stormer. 1979. Playa lakes: Threatened wetlands on the southern Great Plains. Pages 23-30 in: Riparian and Wetland Habitats of the Great Plains, Proceedings of the 31st Annual Meeting of the Great Plains Agricultural Council, Colorado State University, Fort Collins. Great Plains Council Publication 9. Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station, Fort Collins, CO. 88 pp.

  • Comer, P., D. Faber-Langendoen, R. Evans, S. Gawler, C. Josse, G. Kittel, S. Menard, C. Nordman, M. Pyne, M. Reid, M. Russo, K. Schulz, K. Snow, J. Teague, and R. White. 2003-present. Ecological systems of the United States: A working classification of U.S. terrestrial systems. NatureServe, Arlington, VA.

  • Elliott, L. 2013. Draft descriptions of systems, mapping subsystems, and vegetation types for Phases VI. Unpublished documents. Texas Parks and Wildlife Ecological Systems Classification and Mapping Project. Texas Natural History Survey, The Nature Conservancy of Texas, San Antonio.

  • Faber-Langendoen, D., C. Hedge, M. Kost, S. Thomas, L. Smart, R. Smyth, J. Drake, and S. Menard. 2011. Assessment of wetland ecosystem condition across landscape regions: A multi-metric approach. NatureServe, Arlington VA. plus appendices.

  • Guthery, F. S., and F. C. Bryant. 1982. Status of playas in the Southern Great Plains. Wildlife Society Bulletin 10:309-317.

  • Haukos, D. A., and L. M. Smith. 1993. Seed-bank composition and predictive ability of field vegetation in playa lakes. Wetlands 13(1):32-40.

  • Haukos, D. A., and L. M. Smith. 1994. The importance of playa wetlands to biodiversity of the Southern High Plains. Landscape and Urban Planning 28:83-98.

  • Hoagland, B. 2000. The vegetation of Oklahoma: A classification for landscape mapping and conservation planning. The Southwestern Naturalist 45(4):385-420.

  • Lauver, C. L., K. Kindscher, D. Faber-Langendoen, and R. Schneider. 1999. A classification of the natural vegetation of Kansas. The Southwestern Naturalist 44:421-443.

  • Luo, H. R., L. M. Smith, B. L. Allen, and D. A. Haukos. 1997. Effects of sedimentation on playa wetland volume. Ecological Applications 7:247-252.

  • Osterkamp, W. R., and W. W. Wood. 1987. Playa-lake basins on the southern High Plains of Texas and New Mexico: Part I. Hydrologic, geomorphic, and geologic evidence for their development. Bulletin of the Geological Society of America Bulletin 99:215-223.

  • Rolfsmeier, S. B., and G. Steinauer. 2010. Terrestrial ecological systems and natural communities of Nebraska (Version IV - March 9, 2010). Nebraska Natural Heritage Program, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. Lincoln, NE. 228 pp.

  • Shiflet, T. N., editor. 1994. Rangeland cover types of the United States. Society for Range Management. Denver, CO. 152 pp.

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