Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 22, Issue 4, pp 921–935 | Cite as

Response of lizard community structure to desert grassland restoration mediated by a keystone rodent

  • Bradley J. CosentinoEmail author
  • Robert L. Schooley
  • Brandon T. Bestelmeyer
  • John M. Coffman
Original Paper


Many grasslands in the Chihuahuan Desert have transformed to shrublands dominated by creosotebush (Larrea tridentata). Grassland restoration efforts have been directed at controlling creosotebush by applying herbicide over large spatial scales. However, we have a limited understanding of how landscape-scale restoration affects biodiversity. We examined whether restoration treatments in southern New Mexico, USA have influenced the community structure of lizards, which are sensitive to shrub encroachment. We compared lizard community structure on 21 areas treated with herbicide from 7 to 29 years ago with paired untreated areas that were dominated by shrubs and matched by geomorphology, soils, and elevation. To examine mechanisms underlying responses to restoration, we tested whether the abundance of a grassland specialist, Aspidoscelis uniparens, depended on time since treatment, treatment area and isolation, and local habitat quality. Because lizards use rodent burrows as habitat, we tested whether community structure and A. uniparens abundance depended on the abundance of the keystone rodent, Dipodomys spectabilis. Treated areas had reduced shrub cover and increased grass cover compared to untreated areas. Lizard community composition differed strongly between areas, with four species responding to treatments. Divergence in community composition between treated–untreated pairs was greatest for old treatments (≥22 years), and community composition was influenced by D. spectabilis. In particular, the abundance of A. uniparens was greatest on old treatments with a high density of D. spectabilis. Overall, our results demonstrate lizard community structure responds to grassland restoration efforts, and keystone species can shape restoration outcomes. Reestablishment of keystone species may be a critical constraint on the recovery of animal biodiversity after habitat restoration.


Aspidoscelis spp. Dipodomys spectabilis Desertification Grassland restoration Keystone species Shrub encroachment 



This research was supported by a grant from the USDA-AFRI Managed Ecosystems program and by the BLM. We thank D. Burkett for advice on sampling lizards and K. Sierzega for assistance in the field. L. Burkett and R. Lister were instrumental in providing logistical support.

Supplementary material

10531_2013_459_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (195 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 194 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bradley J. Cosentino
    • 1
    • 3
    Email author
  • Robert L. Schooley
    • 1
  • Brandon T. Bestelmeyer
    • 2
  • John M. Coffman
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Natural Resources and Environmental SciencesUniversity of IllinoisUrbanaUSA
  2. 2.USDA-ARS Jornada Experimental Range, New Mexico State UniversityLas CrucesUSA
  3. 3.Department of BiologyHobart and William Smith CollegesGenevaUSA

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