Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Wetlands occurring on natural river floodplains typically have more dynamic hydrology, because of influences from the river, than man-made wetlands or those associated with reclaimed minelands. For wetland-associated species, fluctuating water levels can affect patch availability, connectivity and potentially habitat quality, and therefore drive metapopulation dynamics. Differences in hydrology between wetland complexes could change food webs and consequently the trophic diversity of the communities occupying these areas. My first objective was to assess the spatial and temporal variation in occupancy and turnover rates of a semi-aquatic small mammal at 2 hydrologically distinct wetland complexes over 3 years in southern Illinois. My second objective was to determine spatio-temporal variation in the trophic structure of small mammals at 2 wetland complexes (floodplain and mineland) in southern Illinois. To address my first objective, I live-trapped marsh rice rats (Oryzomys palustris) during 2011-2013 at 9 wetland patches on the Mississippi River floodplain and 14 patches at a reclaimed mineland. I used multi-season occupancy modeling to estimate initial occupancy, detection, colonization and extinction rates. Catch per unit effort differed markedly between the 2 sites (27 captures/1,000 trap-nights at the floodplain site vs. 8 at the mining site). Estimates of detection probability increased with an increase in effort (number of traps per night per wetland patch). Occupancy probability was similar between sites and positively related to patch size. Patch colonization probability at both sites was related negatively to total rainfall 3 weeks prior to trapping. In addition, the variation in colonization probability among years, was different between sites, with colonization in 2013 being much lower at the mining site than at the floodplain. An increase in total rainfall 3 months prior to trapping led to a substantial increase in extinction probability on the floodplain, but not at the mining site. Differences in metapopulation dynamics and relative abundance between the 2 sites can be attributed to differences in hydrology and habitat quality. Although rice rats were present at the mining site in much lower numbers than at the floodplain site, these less-natural wetland complexes might serve as valuable refuges for species occurring in increasingly fragmented landscapes. For my second objective, I collected hair samples from 6 species of small mammals (n = 416) occurring at these wetland complexes. I analyzed C and N stable isotopes for 3 mammal taxa (Oryzomys palustris, Peromyscus spp,, Microtus ochragaster) to compare diet between species, sites, and, times. Food sources (vegetation and invertebrates) were collected at each site to form the isotopic baseline. Using stable isotope mixing models, I found no seasonal difference in diet composition, but signatures varied between sites. Oryzomys palustris at both wetland complexes incorporated primarily (70-80%) invertebrates in their diet, and used more C4 vegetation (30%) than C3 (0%). Isotope signatures of Peromyscus diets at the floodplain site were similar to that of Oryzomys, with ~80% invertebrates and >C4 vegetation than C3 vegetation (~20% and 0%, respectively). At the mining site, Peromyscus were at a much lower trophic level and consumed 70% vegetation with C3 plants making up a greater part of their diet than C4 vegetation (50% and 20%, respectively). Microtus was at a lower trophic position than the other 2 species at both sites. These isotope results point to reduced niche overlap between Oryzomys and Peromyscus at the mining site, perhaps due to lower habitat quality and limited suitable resources. Although small mammals had narrower diet breadths at the mining site, none of the species was at a higher trophic position at the mining site than at the floodplain site. At the floodplain site, the more dynamic hydrology might have given rise to higher biodiversity and consequently provided more resources to allow small mammals to use similar food items.
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