Skip to main content
ARS Home » Plains Area » Las Cruces, New Mexico » Range Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #331737

Research Project: MANAGEMENT TECHNOLOGIES FOR CONSERVATION OF WESTERN RANGELANDS

Location: Range Management Research

Title: Effects of exurban development on trophic interactions in a desert landscape

Author
item DAVANON, KRISTEN - New Mexico State University
item HOWARD, LINDSEY - New Mexico State University
item MABRY, KAREN - New Mexico State University
item SCHOOLEY, ROBERT - University Of Illinois
item Bestelmeyer, Brandon

Submitted to: Landscape Ecology
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 6/6/2016
Publication Date: 7/15/2016
Publication URL: http://handle.nal.usda.gov/10113/5579170
Citation: Davanon, K., Howard, L., Mabry, K., Schooley, R., Bestelmeyer, B.T. 2016. Effects of exurban development on trophic interactions in a desert landscape. Landscape Ecology. 31:2343-2354.

Interpretive Summary: We examined the effect of varying degrees of exurban development (housing density on city outskirts adjacent to wildlands) on a mammalian predator (coyote, Canis latrans), mammalian herbivores (lagomorphs and rodents), and herbaceous plants. We tested the hypothesis that plant recruitment would be negatively affected by exurban development due either to increases in herbivores associated with increased resource availability (a bottom-up effect) or to a reduction in predators that avoid humans (a top-down effect). Increased herbivory on seedlings and decreased herbaceous plant recruitment were observed in high density exurban areas. Overall rodent abundance, seed consumption rates, and activity of the lagomorph Lepus californicus did not vary with urbanization level. Activity by another lagomorph, Sylvilagus audubonii, and coyotes was highest in dense exurban areas, consistent with a bottom-up effect. Exurban development can have important indirect effects on trophic interactions occurring in adjacent, untransformed ecosystems. Similar to earlier studies, such effects in the Chihuahuan Desert may be mediated by additional water and resources provided in urban areas.

Technical Abstract: Context Mechanisms of ecosystem change in urbanizing landscapes are poorly understood, especially in exurban areas featuring residential or commercial development set in a matrix of modified and natural vegetation. We asked how development altered trophic interactions and ecosystem processes in the matrix. Objectives We examined the effect of varying degrees of exurban development (housing density) on a trophic system that included an apex mammalian predator (coyote, Canis latrans), mammalian herbivores (lagomorphs and rodents), and herbaceous plants. We tested the hypothesis that plant recruitment would be negatively affected by exurban development due either to increases in herbivores associated with increased resource availability (a bottom–up effect) or to a reduction in predators that avoid humans (a top–down effect). Methods In Las Cruces, New Mexico, USA, four replicate sites were located in each of three urbanization levels: high density exurban, low density exurban, and wildland dominated by Chihuahuan Desert vegetation. Seedling trays measured herbivory rates, live trapping estimated abundance of pocket mice and kangaroo rats, and remotely-triggered wildlife cameras estimated the activity of lagomorphs and coyotes. Results Increased herbivory on seedlings and decreased herbaceous plant recruitment were observed in high density exurban areas. Overall rodent abundance, seed consumption rates, and activity of the lagomorph Lepus californicus did not vary with urbanization level. Activity by another lagomorph, Sylvilagus audubonii, and coyotes was highest in dense exurban areas, consistent with a bottom–up effect. Conclusions Exurban development can have important indirect effects on trophic interactions occurring in adjacent, untransformed ecosystems. Similar to earlier studies, such effects in the Chihuahuan Desert may be mediated by bottom–up processes associated with anthropogenic inputs.