Influence of vegetation structure on the small mammal community in a shortgrass prairie ecosystem

  • Thompson C
  • Gese E
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The structure of vegetation, and how this structure varies across a landscape, is crucial to understanding the distribution of wildlife species. Between 2002 and 2004, we sampled small mammal communities and measured vegetation structure at 185 locations across a range of disturbance regimes in a shortgrass prairie ecosystem in southeastern Colorado, USA. At each sampling location, the local disturbance regime was some combination of varying intensity of livestock grazing, military training activity, and fire. Vegetation structural characteristics measured included percent bare ground, basal cover, litter, shrub density, and mean grass and shrub height. Rodent communities were described by richness, diversity, total and per capita biomass, and species abundances. Northern grasshopper mice (Onychomys leucogaster), Ord's kangaroo rats (Dipodomys ordii), silky pocket mice (Perognathus flavus), western harvest mice (Reithrodontomys megalotis), white-footed mice (Peromyscus leucopus), southern plains wood rats (Neotoma micropus), thirteen-lined ground squirrels (Spermophilus tridecemlineatus), deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus), and spotted ground squirrels (Spermophilus spilosoma) accounted for >99 % of all captures. Canonical correlation analysis was used to assess the relationship between small mammals and vegetation structure. The first two canonical variates explained over 50 % of the variation in vegetation structure and were related to the ratio of bare ground to basal coverage and litter accumulation. Rodent community indices were most strongly related to litter accumulation and shrub density, though the models had low explanatory power. Our results agreed with published findings regarding microhabitat associations and indicated small mammal communities benefited from a system of interacting disturbances and the resulting landscape mosaic.

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  • CM Thompson

  • EM Gese

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