Disturbances by desert rodents are more strongly associated with spatial changes in soil texture than woody encroachment
Background and Aims
Soil texture is an important determinant of ecosystem structure and productivity in drylands, and may influence animal foraging and, indirectly, plant community composition.
We measured the density and composition of surface disturbances (foraging pits) of small, soil-foraging desert vertebrates in shrubland and grasslands, both with coarse- and fine-textured soils. We predicted that the density and functional significance of disturbances would be related more to differences in texture than shrub encroachment.
Soil texture had a stronger influence on animal foraging sites than shrub encroachment. There were more disturbances, greater richness and abundance of trapped seed, and greater richness of germinating plants on coarse- than fine-textured soils. Pits in coarse soils trapped 50 % more litter than those in finer soils. Apart from slightly more soil removal and greater litter capture in shrubland pits, there were no effects of encroachment.
Although the process of woody encroachment has been shown to have marked effects on some ecosystem properties, it is likely to have a more subordinate effect on surface disturbances and therefore their effects on desert plant communities than soil texture. Our results highlight the importance of animal activity in shaping desert plant communities, and potentially, in maintaining or reinforcing shrub dominant processes.
KeywordsBioturbation Drylands Seed capture Litter Foraging pits Encroachment Soils Shrubs
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