Ecosystem engineers maintain a rare species of butterfly and increase plant diversity

Authors


R. A. Bartel, Dept of Biology, Box 7617, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695-7617, USA. E-mail: bbartel@uga.edu

Abstract

We evaluated whether ecosystem engineers can accomplish two conservation goals simultaneously: (1) indirectly maintain populations of an endangered animal through habitat modification and (2) increase riparian plant diversity. We tested for effects of a prominent ecosystem engineer, the beaver Castor canadensis, on populations of St. Francis' satyr butterfly Neonympha mitchellii francisci and plant species richness and composition. We performed our test by surveying riparian vegetation communities in all stages of beaver-influenced wetland succession. We found that beavers created wetland habitats that supported plant species not found elsewhere in riparian zones and increased plant species diversity across the landscape by creating a novel combination of patch types. Our results confirmed what others have found about engineering effects on plant diversity, but these results further demonstrated a case where ecosystem engineers indirectly maintain populations of rare animals by modifying the composition and diversity of plant communities within wetlands. Our research demonstrates how an ecosystem engineer can influence habitat availability and composition of plant communities important for an endangered insect, and maintain overall plant species diversity by increasing habitat heterogeneity.

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