Date of Award
Master of Science
Woody vegetation encroachment has become a major threat to tallgrass prairie streams mainly because of fire suppression. This process converts prairie streams from open to closed canopy systems. The effects of these riparian changes are poorly understood, but the relative importance of basal resources presumably shifts from primarily autochthonous to allochthonous with increasing canopy cover, potentially altering macroinvertebrate functional structure and production. To assess the effects of woody vegetation encroachment on stream ecosystem structure and function, riparian trees were removed from two headwater stream reaches on the Konza Prairie Biological Station (KPBS) in eastern Kansas. Experimental stream reaches were compared to streams with naturally open and closed canopies before and after the manipulation. Benthic organic matter and macroinvertebrates were collected monthly from each reach for one year before and one year after woody vegetation removal. Total community production in canopy removal reaches ranged from 8.9-10.2 g AFDM m-2 y-1 before riparian removal, and this increased significantly to 13.4-14.5 g AFDM m-2 y-1 after riparian removal. Scraper production in canopy removal reaches was 2.8-3.9 g AFDM m-2 y-1 before riparian removal, and increased significantly to 6.0-8.7 g AFDM m-2 y-1 after riparian removal, presumably due to enhanced food availability. Total community production in naturally open reaches ranged from 7.6-12.6 g AFDM m-2 y-1 before riparian removal and decreased to 6.5-9.8 g AFDM m-2 y-1 after riparian removal. Riparian forest removal altered macroinvertebrate production and functional structure, but higher macroinvertebrate production in canopy removal reaches compared to naturally open reaches suggested natural conditions were not restored one year after riparian removal. However, macroinvertebrate communities in naturally open and canopy removal reaches became more similar after riparian removal. Functional structure, based on production, in naturally open and canopy removal reaches after riparian removal was dominated by scrapers (45-60% of total production), with similar proportions of collector-gatherers (12-26%) and predators (15-25%). Collector-filterers and shredders contributed < 9% of total production in naturally open and canopy removal reaches after riparian removal. Results demonstrate that woody vegetation encroachment and riparian forest removal significantly influence tallgrass prairie stream structure and function. Information from this study can help inform and guide management, restoration, and conservation of remaining tallgrass prairie streams.
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