Arthropod food web restoration following removal of an invasive wetland plant.
ABSTRACT Restoration of habitats impacted by invasive plants is becoming an increasingly important tool in the management of native biodiversity, though most studies do not go beyond monitoring the abundance of particular taxonomic groups, such as the return of native vegetation. Yet, the reestablishment of trophic interactions among organisms in restored habitats is equally important if we are to monitor and understand how ecosystems recover. This study examined whether food web interactions among arthropods (as inferred by abundance of naturally occurring stable isotopes of C [delta13C] and N [delta15N]) were reestablished in the restoration of a coastal Spartina alterniflora salt marsh that had been invaded by Phragmites australis. From patterns of C and N stable isotopes we infer that trophic interactions among arthropods in the native salt marsh habitats are characterized by reliance on the dominant marsh plant Spartina as a basal resource. Herbivores such as delphacid planthoppers and mirid bugs have isotope signatures characteristic of Spartina, and predatory arthropods such as dolicopodid flies and spiders likewise have delta13C and delta15N signatures typical of Spartina-derived resources (approximately -13 per thousand and 10 per thousand, respectively). Stable isotope patterns also suggest that the invasion of Phragmites into salt marshes and displacement of Spartina significantly alter arthropod food web interactions. Arthropods in Phragmites-dominated sites have delta13C isotope values between -18 per thousand and -20 per thousand, suggesting reliance on detritus and/or benthic microalgae as basal resources and not on Phragmites, which has a delta13C approximately -26 per thousand. Since most Phragmites herbivores are either feeding internally or are rare transients from nearby Spartina, these resources do not provide significant prey resources for other arthropod consumers. Rather, predator isotope signatures in the invaded habitats indicate dependence on detritus/algae as basal resources instead of the dominant vegetation. The reestablishment of Spartina after removal of Phragmites, however, not only returned species assemblages typical of reference (uninvaded) Spartina, but stable isotope signatures suggest that the trophic interactions among the arthropods were also similar in reestablished habitats. Specifically, both herbivores and predators showed characteristic Spartina signatures, suggesting the return of the original grazer-based food web structure in the restored habitats.
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ABSTRACT: Converting exotic forages to native warm-season grasses (NWSG) such as big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), and Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) offers a sustainable alternative because NWSG may yield comparative livestock gains with less fertilizer, as well as offer habitat for arthropods and declining grassland bird species such as Dickcissels (Spiza americana). In the Southeastern United States, the predominant forage species are exotics such as bermudagrass (Cynodon dactylon) and tall fescue (Schedonorus arundinaceus), so NWSG conversion could substantially improve sustainability and wildlife habitat on private lands in the region. In 2011 and 2012, I studied response of Dickcissels and arthropods to forage origin, diversity, and grazing at the Mississippi State University Prairie Research Unit in Monroe Co., MS, USA. Four treatments were established among 12 pastures representing a gradient in management intensity, including a grazed bermudagrass and tall fescue mix (GMEP), grazed Indian grass monoculture (GINP), grazed mixed native pasture (GMNP), and a non-grazed mixed native pasture (NMNP). Grazed treatments were stocked with steers from May through August each year. I also evaluated the economic implications of each grazing system. In general, there was a positive response to native grasses among Dickcissels and arthropods and a negative effect from grazing. Dickcissel productivity (fledgling ha–1) was highest in NMNP and lowest in GMEP, whereas productivity was intermediate and similar among grazed native pastures. This pattern was attributable to availability of suitable nest sites because nest survival and brood size did not vary by treatment. Several arthropod taxa responded positively to greater vegetation density in NMNP, but communities were largely similar among grazed pastures irrespective of forage origin or diversity, suggesting little short-term response to NWSG. In spite of unfavorable growing conditions due to drought, cattle grazing NWSG consistently outperformed conspecifics in GMEP, with 45–72% higher average daily gain. Partial budget analysis indicated that NWSG pastures yielded up to 36% marginal rates of return despite establishment costs. These results suggest NWSG conversion can benefit tall grass specialists such as Dickcissels while offering a competitive alternative to exotic forages, resulting in net benefits for both conservationists and producers.08/2014, Degree: Ph.D., Supervisor: Sam Riffell, James A. Martin
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ABSTRACT: Plant invasions are a threat to biodiversity, as changes in plant community characteristics resulting from invasion can affect other organisms, such as arthropods. The effects of invasions may interact with other disturbances and alter the efficacy of restoration strategies. We sought to understand the effects of Old World bluestem grasses (OWBs, Bothriochloa, Dichanthium spp.), which have become dominant in prairie ecosystems and reduce the quality of habitat for wildlife. In an attempt to reduce OWBs, we applied treatments to modify soil conditions to a state which favors native plants and arthropods. We conducted our research in 2011, which coincided with extreme drought and provided us with the opportunity to test the efficacy of soil modification under varying conditions. First, we explored the effects of plant invasion and drought on native plant and arthropod communities by comparing characteristics of plots dominated by native plants to plots dominated by OWBs. As drought subsided, we observed a shift from an arthropod community driven by detritivores to one driven by herbivores associated with plant invasion. Arthropod communities were dominated by invasive species. Second, we explored the efficacy of soil modification and seeding treatments to reduce OWBs in the presence and absence of drought based on a field experiment and a more controlled microcosm experiment. Although changes in soil chemistry from soil treatments were short-lived, we observed reduced dominance of OWBs in areas treated with soil disturbance and seeding in both experiments and we observed no differences between experiments when we alleviated the effects of drought. Finally, we examined the concomitant effects of our soil modification and seeding treatments on arthropod communities in the field experiment. We observed fewer arthropods in treated plots than undisturbed OWB monocultures, but soil and seeding treatments increased arthropod diversity and reduced dominance of invasive arthropods relative to undisturbed OWB monocultures. Based on our findings, simple soil disturbance in combination with seeding of native plants may increase diversity of native plants and arthropods where invasive plants are dominant in the short term, but monitoring over longer time frames may reveal additional benefits from soil modification.07/2014, Degree: Master of Science, Supervisor: Andrea R Litt
Ecology 10/2014; 95(10):2699-2706. DOI:10.1890/14-0127.1 · 5.00 Impact Factor