VERMILLION, S.D. – A University of South Dakota Department of Biology professor and his recently defended Ph.D. student will publish research on how habitat structure can influence biodiversity in other environments in the journal Ecosphere.
Biology professor Daniel Soluk, Ph.D., and his then student, Kristopher Pitcher, Ph.D., now an adjunct professor of biology at USD, studied how plant structure within ponds can alter how fish impact the size at which aquatic insects emerge into the terrestrial environment potentially having a cascading influence on spiders, frogs and birds that depend on these insects for food.
Over the course of two years, the pair used pond enclosures to manipulate the presence of fish and the distance between patches of plants. They then compared the size of the adult insects that emerged from the enclosures.
"We found that with fish present, shorter distances between plant patches increased the size of emerging damselflies,” Pitcher said.
Pitcher continued that the results confirmed their understanding of how plants and habitat structure can influence predator and prey. What was unique in their research is showing how those relationships connect and influence other environments.
"As ecologists, we already knew that plants, and habitat structure in general, can influence how predators and prey interact. What our study shows is that the influence of habitat structure on predator-prey interactions can cascade from one habitat type into another by altering the size at which aquatic insects emerge into the terrestrial environment,” he said.
The research was conducted in two natural ponds located at the Illinois Dragonfly Research Center in Lemont, Illinois, which was made available by the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County.