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Odonates as biological indicators of grazing effects on Canadian prairie wetlands


*A. Lee Foote, Department of Renewable Resources, GSB 7-51, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta T6G 2H1, Canada. E-mail:


Abstract.  1. Aquatic macro-invertebrates have frequently been used as biological indicators in lotic environments but much less commonly so in lentic habitats. Dragonflies and damselflies (Order Odonata) satisfy most selection criteria for lentic bioindicators of grazing impacts.

2. Intensive cattle grazing affects most of the Canadian prairie pothole region but the effects of grazing on wetlands are poorly understood.

3. Here the vegetation structure and invertebrate community composition of 27 prairie potholes in Alberta, Canada were studied and compared. Wetlands were evenly divided into three treatments of different grazing regimes.

4. Removal of emergent vegetation by cattle grazing decreased odonate abundance and reproductive effort. Shorter Scirpus acutus stems resulted in significantly fewer damselflies (Suborder Zygoptera) and lower reproductive efforts.

5. Overall odonate diversity was affected by the height of key plant species, highlighting the importance of the vegetation structure of both emergent vegetation for breeding and adjacent upland vegetation for nocturnal roosts. Wetland vegetation structure was more important than vegetation composition to the life history of odonates.

6. Wetland water quality parameters of nitrogen, phosphorus, total dissolved solids (TDS), and chlorophyll-a concentration did not change due to the presence of grazing cattle at wetlands so water quality influences were rejected as mechanisms of change.

7. Larval odonate diversity and abundance was positively correlated with overall aquatic macro-invertebrate diversity and abundance, hence it was concluded that the larval odonate community can be an accurate bioindicator of intactness and diversity of overall aquatic macro-invertebrate communities in Canadian prairie wetlands.