NEW PAPER OUT! Disturbance mediates homogenization of above and belowground invertebrate communities

The flood begins at the University of Oklahoma Biological Station (UOBS), Spring 2015. Aerial photograph by Jeff Thrasher.

Our manuscript about the impact of flooding on invertebrate communities at the University of Oklahoma Biological Station (UOBS) has been officially accepted at Environmental Entomology!

This project has some interesting origins. In between my written and oral comprehensive exams, I desperately wanted to be outside doing well….anything. We had heard that an area of the UOBS was scheduled to be burned so we thought it would be fun to take a weekend trip there and start surveying the invertebrates. We set out a bunch of pitfall traps, which are small containers sunk into the ground that passively capture insects, along a few transects. But we did this with an interesting twist. For half the traps, we placed them deeper underground than the other half. The goal was to see if the invertebrate communities, above and below ground respectively, would respond differently to disturbance. Then the unexpected happened…

Record levels of precipitation for south central Oklahoma raised the adjacent Lake Texoma aproximately 30 feet during late May and Early June. This caused substantial flooding throughout the region and buried our field site under water for almost a month. We had traded fire for water! Given this unique opportunity, perhaps a once in a lifetime opportunity,  we thought it would be really cool to continue our sampling in the same manner and record how our communities changed. 

In doing so we found some surprising results. From 2015 to 2016 we saw a 93% decrease in abundance, a 60% decrease in species, and a 64% decrease in biomass. We also found that above and belowground invertebrate communities, which pre-flood contained different sets of species, were now more or less the same. Moreover, some species that seem to be good at colonizing disturbed habitats quickly re-entered the system and were thriving at the end of the study (e.g. crickets and spiders). My advisor Mike Kaspari sums it up nicely, “The area went from a diverse structured insect community, to a large expanse of crickets and spiders.”

These changes may have important consequences for both plants and consumers in the future. And we cannot help but wonder if the ecosystem will ever return back to what it was. Perhaps only time (and more sampling) will tell…

You can find a copy of our paper at Environmental Entomology [CLICK HERE].

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