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ARS Home » Plains Area » Fort Collins, Colorado » Center for Agricultural Resources Research » Rangeland Resources & Systems Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #384263

Research Project: Adaptive Grazing Management and Decision Support to Enhance Ecosystem Services in the Western Great Plains

Location: Rangeland Resources & Systems Research

Title: Burrowing Rodents

item Augustine, David
item SMITH, JENNIFER - Mills College
item DAVIDSON, ANA - Colorado State University
item STAPP, PAUL - University Of California

Submitted to: Book Chapter
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: 6/30/2022
Publication Date: N/A
Citation: N/A

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: Rangelands around the world are inhabited and shaped by a diverse array of fossorial and semi-fossorial (burrowing), herbivorous mammals (Davidson et al. 2012). Many of these species function as ecosystem engineers (Jones et al. 1994) because they construct burrow systems and alter the structure of vegetation and soils (e.g., Huntly and Inouye 1988; Reichman and Seabloom 2002; Lenihan 2007; Davidson and Lightfoot 2008; Prugh and Brashares 2012; Baker et al. 2013). These engineering activities also often alter the composition of plant communities, and create habitat features upon which other fauna depend (e.g., Davidson et al. 2012; Augustine and Baker 2013). In addition, burrowing mammals often serve as the prey base for a diverse array of predators, including raptors and mammalian carnivores. Here, we provide a review of the burrowing rodent species that function as ecosystem engineers in rangelands of western North America. First, we examine a group of ground squirrels that are social and colonial, which often concentrates their effects on rangelands in a spatially heterogeneous manner. These colonial species can be divided in terms of taxonomy and body size into the prairie dogs (five species in the genus Cynomys, which tend to be larger than other colonial ground squirrels) versus the somewhat smaller ground squirrels in the genera Otospermophilus (one species), Poliocitellus (one species), and Urocitellus (nine species) (Table 1). Non-colonial, burrowing rodents that exert important engineering effects on western rangelands consist of pocket gophers in the genera Cratogeomys, Geomys, and Thomomys (16 widespread species, plus several restricted-range endemics) and kangaroo rats in the genus Dipodomys (eight widespread species, plus several restricted-range endemics; Table 2). We first describe the general life history and distribution of representative species in each of these groups, followed by a description of their ecosystem associations and the ways in which they influence the structure and function of rangelands. We follow with a discussion of our current state of knowledge on how burrowing rodents influence livestock management and production, the degree to which they are regulated by diseases (especially plague, caused by the introduced bacterium Yersinia pestis), and how interactions with disease and livestock fundamentally shape the management and conservation of burrowing rodents.