, Volume 153, Issue 2, pp 341–351

Vole disturbances and plant diversity in a grassland metacommunity

Plant Animal Interaction

DOI: 10.1007/s00442-007-0734-y

Cite this article as:
Questad, E.J. & Foster, B.L. Oecologia (2007) 153: 341. doi:10.1007/s00442-007-0734-y


We studied the disturbance associated with prairie vole burrows and its effects on grassland plant diversity at the patch (1 m2) and metacommunity (>5 ha) scales. We expected vole burrows to increase patch-scale plant species diversity by locally reducing competition for resources or creating niche opportunities that increase the presence of fugitive species. At the metacommunity scale, we expected burrows to increase resource heterogeneity and have a community composition distinct from the matrix. We measured resource variables and plant community composition in 30 paired plots representing disturbed burrows and undisturbed matrix patches in a cool-season grassland. Vole disturbance affected the mean values of nine resource variables measured and contributed more to resource heterogeneity in the metacommunity than matrix plots. Disturbance increased local plant species richness, metacommunity evenness, and the presence and abundance of fugitive species. To learn more about the contribution of burrow and matrix habitats to metacommunity diversity, we compared community similarity among burrow and matrix plots. Using Sorenson’s similarity index, which considers only presence–absence data, we found no difference in community similarity among burrows and matrix plots. Using a proportional similarity index, which considers both presence–absence and relative abundance data, we found low community similarity among burrows. Burrows appeared to shift the identity of dominant species away from the species dominant in the matrix. They also allowed subordinate species to persist in higher abundances. The patterns we observed are consistent with several diversity-maintaining mechanisms, including a successional mosaic and alternative successional trajectories. We also found evidence that prairie voles may be ecosystem engineers.


Beta diversity Succession Community assembly Metaecosystem Ecosystem engineer 

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of KansasLawrenceUSA

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