Colonization and recovery of invertebrate ecosystem engineers during prairie restoration

TitleColonization and recovery of invertebrate ecosystem engineers during prairie restoration
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2014
AuthorsWodika, BR, Baer, SG, Klopf, RP
JournalRestoration Ecology
Pagination456 -464
Accession NumberKNZ001609
Keywordsants, chronosequence, earthworms, Illinois, prairie, restoration, soil fauna

Ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) and earthworms (Oligochaeta) are considered ecosystem engineers because they form biogenic structures in the soil that influence resource supply. The objectives of this study were to quantify recovery dynamics of these invertebrate groups across a chronosequence of restored prairies and elucidate whether changes in the abundance and biomass of ants and earthworms were related to key plant and ecosystem properties. We sampled ants and earthworms from cultivated fields, grasslands restored from 1 to 21 years, and native prairie. Ant abundance and biomass peaked between 5 and 8 years of restoration and abundance was 198 times greater than cultivated fields. Earthworm abundance increased linearly across the chronosequence and became representative of native prairie, but all earthworm populations were dominated by European species. Ant abundance and biomass were positively correlated with plant diversity and plant richness, whereas earthworm abundance biomass was only related to surface litter. These results demonstrate that earthworm abundance increases with time since cessation of cultivation and concomitant with prairie establishment, whereas the abundance and biomass of ants are more related to the structure of restored plant communities than time. The dominance of exotic earthworms in these restorations, coupled with their capacity to alter soil properties and processes may represent novel conditions for grassland development.