Ecosystem characteristics of remnant, headwater tallgrass prairie streams

TitleEcosystem characteristics of remnant, headwater tallgrass prairie streams
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2013
AuthorsLarson, DM, Dodds, WK, Jackson, KE, Whiles, MR, Winders, KR
JournalJournal of Environmental Quality
Pagination239 -249
Accession NumberKNZ001530

North America has lost >95% of its native tallgrass prairie due to land conversion, making prairie streams one of the most endangered ecosystems. Research on the basic ecosystem characteristics of the remaining natural prairie streams will inform conservation and management. We examined the structure and function of headwater streams draining tallgrass prairie tracts at Osage Prairie in Missouri and the Konza Prairie Biological Station in Kansas and compared those values with literature values for streams draining agricultural watersheds in the region. We quantified physicochemical and biological characteristics for 2 yr. Streams at Osage and Konza were characterized by low nutrients and low suspended sediments (substantially lower than impacted sites in the region), slight heterotrophic status, and high temporal variability. Suspended sediments and nutrient concentrations were generally low in all prairie streams, but storms increased concentrations of both by 3- to 12-fold. Spring prescribed burns were followed by a slight increase in chlorophyll a and decreased nutrients, potentially due to greater light availability. Benthic macroinvertebrate communities at Osage showed seasonal patterns that were probably linked to variable hydrology. We found nine amphibian species using the Osage streams as habitat or breeding sites, but little usage at Konza was probably due to dry conditions and low discharge. Our study indicates that two remnant tallgrass prairie streams along a longitudinal gradient are fairly similar in terms of physicochemical features and have good water quality relative to agricultural watersheds but can differ considerably in macroinvertebrate and amphibian abundance.