In the Platte River Valley of central Nebraska, USA, riparian grasslands (also known as wet meadows) have been severely impacted by a reduction in river flows, causing lower ground-water levels and altered seasonal hydroperiods. The potential impacts of these hydrologic changes, as well as the environmental factors that influence wet meadow soil invertebrate communities, are not well understood. An understanding of the ecological processes that influence these invertebrate communities is crucial for maintaining and restoring wet meadows along the Platte River. Our objectives were to describe the soil invertebrate community of wet meadows throughout the growing season and to examine the relative roles of abiotic factors in determining patterns in invertebrate community structure. We conducted the study in 12 wet meadows along the Platte River during 1999 and 2000. We identified 73 invertebrate taxa; 39 were considered soil inhabitants. Total biomass was primarily composed of earthworms, Scarabaeidae, Isopoda, and Elateridae, with earthworms and Scarabaeidae accounting for >82%. Differences in river flow and precipitation patterns influenced some soil invertebrates. Earthworms and Scarabaeidae declined dramatically from 1999 (wet year) to 2000 (dry year). The topographic gradient created by the ridge-swale complex affected several soil invertebrate taxa; Scarabaeidae, Diplopoda, and Lepidoptera biomasses were greatest on drier ridges, while Tipulidae and Isopoda biomasses were greatest in wetter sloughs. Responses of earthworm taxa to the topographic gradient were variable, but generally, greater biomasses occurred on ridges and mid-elevations. Water-table depth and soil moisture were the most important variables influencing wet meadow soil invertebrates. Because these communities are linked to the hydrologic processes of the Platte River, future alterations of wet meadow hydrology could shift the distribution patterns of many of these invertebrates and possibly eliminate more moisture-tolerant taxa. To maintain wet meadows and their biotic communities, flow management should focus on regaining as much as possible of the former hydrograph through properly timed flows that provide an adequate hydrologic regime for wet meadows. In addition, restoration of wet meadows will depend on restoring the natural topography of wet meadows.
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Vol. 26 • No. 2