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Life on the Edge: The Ecology of Great Plains Prairie Streams

This peer-reviewed article from BioScience is on the threat to Great Plains prairie streams. Great Plains streams are highly endangered and can serve as model systems for studying disturbance ecology and related issues of resistance and resilience in temperate freshwaters. These streams exist in a precarious balance between flood and drying. In general, microbial activity recovers in days to weeks after drying or flooding, and invertebrate and fish species are quick to follow. In lower forested reaches, floods may be more intense but drying less common. Upstream reaches of prairie streams are characterized by frequent drying, little canopy cover, and limited leaf input. Life history and adaptations alter the ways in which stream organisms respond to these linear patterns. Human modification has altered these patterns, leading to large-scale loss of native grassland streams. The future for Great Plains streams is bleak, given the land-use changes and water-use patterns in the region and the large areas required to preserve intact, ecologically functional watersheds.

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