The prairie pothole region, characterized by millions of unique ponds scattered across its surface extends from Alberta Canada, down into the central United States. This “patchy” ecosystem provides feeding habitat for an estimated 50-75% of North Americas breeding ducks, which feed primarily on the numerable invertebrate species found within the area.
The region is an ideal site for the study of metacommunity dynamics, as it’s many local ecosystems (ponds) are joined by the dispersal of highly interactive species (ducks and invertebrates).
Transport of plant propagules by ducks both internally (endozoochory) and externally (ectozoochory) have been extensively researched by scientists, but the use of such methods of transport by invertebrates is an area of science remaining in it’s infancy.
Last semester I did an extensive literature review to determine which invertebrate taxa found within the region have the ability to be successfully transported by ducks. An invert was classified as being successfully transported by internal means if viable eggs or adult forms of the invert were found within the lower digestive tract or excrement of waterfowl. Inverts were classified as being capable of external transport if literature was found containing evidence that the particular invert was observed attached to waterfowl plumage, feet, or bills.
This semester I am working on the fun stuff – running all of my findings and data gathered previously from the prairie pothole region by McCarter (2009) through R. I will be completing all sorts of math stats-y stuff in order to support or negate my hypothesis, which is roughly:
Variation in invertebrate species composition among ponds within the prairie pothole region can be attributed to dispersal via diving and dabbling ducks, or – if this isn’t the case, that the differences in invertebrate assemblages among ponds is due to: large-scale environmental characteristics, and the unique ecosystem presented by each pond.
Math has never been my strong point… wish me luck! (Hopefully I do better than this guy )