Playas are shallow, temporal wetlands found all across the Ogallala Aquifer region. It is natural for these ephemeral wetlands to go through long dry cycles. In the Southern High Plains, playas are often dry for years, until a heavy rainfall event fills them with surface water. Because they often lack water, it is difficult for people to appreciate playas or understand the unique ecosystem services they perform.
For more than 12 years, Ogallala Commons staff have conducted Playa Festivals and Field Days. Our outdoor learning events invite students, teenagers, and adults to see, touch, and better understand these unique prairie wetlands. After this season of plentiful rains, when so many playas are undergoing wet cycles, OC would like to share 10 basic facts about playas of the Southern High Plains, compiled by Dr. David Haukos in 2010:
- Despite only occupying 2% of the landscape, playas are the keystone ecosystem of the High Plains portion of the Southern Great Plains. All plants, animals, and people of the High Plains interact with playas on a daily basis. Without playas, biodiversity and quality of life for humans would be much reduced.
- There are 350 species of plants that can potentially be found in playas of the Southern Great Plains. However, each species only appears under rather specific environmental conditions and some species may only be present for a very short period of time.
- There are greater than 200 bird species documented using playa wetlands for migration, wintering, and breeding.
- The diversity of birds using playas is due to the diversity of plant communities (habitats) among playas throughout the Southern Great Plains.
- The 25-30,000 playas of the Southern Great Plains connect the region to the rest of the Western Hemisphere through migratory birds and other ecological attributes.
- Playas are the predominant natural flood control system and recharge site to the Ogallala Aquifer on the Southern Great Plains.
- Playas are shallow, isolated, dynamic wetlands represented by a unique soil at the bottom of depressions on the Southern Great Plains.
- There are 14 species of amphibians completely dependent on playas to persist.
- Sedimentation, or accumulation of eroded soil from the surrounding watershed, is the greatest threat to the integrity of playa wetlands.
- Playas are dynamic, responding to the unpredictable environment of the Great Plains. Any attempt to stablize the environment of playas effectively destroys the playa.
Would you like to learn more about the playas near you?