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Consequences of Prairie Wetland Drainage for Crustacean Biodiversity and Metapopulations

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Much of Illinois was once wet prairie, dotted with ancient (ca. 10,000-year-old) ephemeral wetlands. Most wetland habitat (85%) was converted to agriculture over a span of about 100 years (ca. 1850–1950). The consequences of this severe habitat fragmentation on wetland communities and metapopulations are unknown. We studied crustacean communities (weekly stovepipe samples throughout hydroperiods) for 3 years in a set of extant ephemeral wetlands in Illinois. We generated species-sites curves by rarefaction and extrapolated those curves to conservatively estimate that 83–85 crustacean species may have inhabited approximately 4 million ephemeral wetlands that once existed in Illinois; 8–9 crustacean species were driven to extinction in Illinois during drainage; and 75–76 crustacean species are extant in the few remaining ephemeral wetlands of Illinois. We also conducted cellular automata simulations to examine the potential effects of habitat fragmentation on the genetic structure of extant crustacean metapopulation. Simulations indicated that conversion of the former wet prairie to agriculture may have reduced crustacean metapopulations to isolated populations that are more vulnerable to future habitat loss. Despite severe habitat fragmentation, curvilinear species-sites relationships suggest that the greatest extinction rates have yet to occur for ephemeral wetland crustaceans. However, selection for limited dispersal during habitat fragmentation may contribute to extinction debt for extant species. Conservation programs can preserve much of the historical biodiversity of ephemeral wetlands, but future wetland biodiversity will depend heavily on the success of those efforts. The consequences of historical wetland loss and the importance of wetland conservation efforts to agriculture in the United States should be instructive for other regions.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Biology, University of Illinois at Springfield, Springfield, IL 62794–9243, U.S.A., 2: Department of Computer Science & Information Systems, Grand Valley State University, Allendale, MI 49401, U.S.A. 3: Department of Computer Science, University of Illinois at Springfield, Springfield, IL 62794–9243, U.S.A.

Publication date: February 1, 2003

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