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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: MANAGEMENT TECHNOLOGIES FOR ARID RANGELANDS

Location: Range Management Research

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

Authors
item Cosentino, Brad -
item Schooley, Robert -
item Bestelmeyer, Brandon
item Coffman, John -

Submitted to: Biodiversity and Conservation Journal
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: February 16, 2013
Publication Date: February 27, 2013
Repository URL: http://handle.nal.usda.gov/10113/57215
Citation: Cosentino, B., Schooley, R., Bestelmeyer, B.T., Coffman, J. 2013. Response of lizard community structure to desert grassland restoration mediated by a keystone rodent. Biodiversity and Conservation Journal. 22:921-935.

Interpretive Summary: 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 compared lizard community structure on 21 sites treated with herbicide from 7-29 years ago with paired references matched by geomorphology, soils, and elevation. Our results demonstrate that lizard community structure responds in predicted ways to grassland restoration efforts, and that banner-tailed kangaroo rats occupying restored areas also affect lizard communities.

Technical Abstract: 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 sites treated with herbicide from 7-29 years ago with paired references 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. Treatments had reduced shrub cover and increased grass cover compared to references. Lizard community composition differed strongly between plots, with four species responding to treatments. Divergence in community composition between treatment-reference 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 responses. Reestablishment of keystone species may be a critical constraint on the recovery of animal biodiversity after habitat restoration.

Last Modified: 10/1/2014
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