Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Invertebrates influence primary productivity and nutrient cycling in ecosystems. They are also important links between producer and higher trophic levels. Despite their important role in terrestrial ecosystem function, invertebrates are frequently overlooked in ecological restorations. Thus, the objective of this research was to quantify how belowground macroinvertebrate ecosystem engineers and communities change over time following ecological restoration and examine whether the source of dominant plant species and the composition of non-dominant plant species influence aboveground macroinvertebrates community structure in restored prairie. A chronosequence design (space for time substitution) was used to determine the role of restoration age, plant community, and soil structure on the recovery of two belowground macroinvertebrate ecosystem engineers (Chapter 2). Ants and earthworms were sampled from cultivated fields, grasslands restored for 1-21 years, and native prairie. Earthworm abundance increased with time since cessation of cultivation, concomitant with prairie establishment. The abundance and biomass of ants were more related to the structure of restored plant communities than time since restoration. The dominance of exotic earthworms, and a generalist ant species in these restorations, coupled with their known capacity to alter soil properties and processes, may represent novel conditions for grassland development. The same chronosequence of agricultural fields, restored prairies, and prairies that were never cultivated was used to address the second objective of this research, which was to quantify how the belowground macroinvertebrate community composition changed in response to ecological restoration and whether the communities became representative of undisturbed (“target”) communities. Macroinvertebrate communities in the two remnant prairie sampled were distinct from restorations and continuouslycultivated fields. The macroinvertebrate communities in prairie that had never been cultivated were also distince from each other, indicating a “target” community is hard to define. Belowground macroinvertebrates changed in a trajectory that was not representative of either remnant prairie, but was representative of the an average of both remnant prairies. Thus, if you reconstruct prairie from cultivated soil conditions (“build it”), macroinvertebrates will colonize (“come”), but attaining a community representative of a specific target may require introduction from that target. Colonization of macroinvertebrates in restorations aboveground are most likely to be influenced by aspects of the plant community. A third objective of this research was to quantify whether variation in dominant species (cultivars vs. local ecotypes) and composition of subordinate species (local species pools) influence the composition of aboveground macroinvertebrates. Macronvertebrate abundance, richness, diversity, trophic groups and community composition in late summer did not vary between prairie restored with cultivar and local ecotypes of the dominant grasses. This was observed in two field experiments. The species pool treatment did influence the macroinvertebrate community, as one species pool had slightly higher morphospecies diversity and hymenopterans that the other two species pools. This was likely due to the presence of an ant-tended legume, Chamaecrista facsciculata Michx., in one species pool. Overall, this research demonstrates that time since the cessation of disturbance (cultivatation) and plant communities influence macroinvertebrate communities in restored prairie. Restored prairies in the Midwest are likely to be colonized by exotic earthworms and cosmopolitan ants. More research is needed to reveal how they influence ecosystem functioning.Belowground, macroinvertebrate communities may not represent restoration “targets” and these “targets” may be hard to define if remnants are rare or there is a high degree of spatial variation on the landscape. Variation in plant communities above ground appears to influence the structure of aboveground macroinvertebrate communities more than variation within dominant species. Whether this aboveground variation is reflected is reflected belowground deserves further investigation.
This dissertation is Open Access and may be downloaded by anyone.