Pack rats (Neotoma spp.): Keystone ecological engineers?

TitlePack rats (Neotoma spp.): Keystone ecological engineers?
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2010
AuthorsWhitford WG, Steinberger Y
JournalJournal of Arid Environments
Start Page1450
Date Published2010
Accession NumberJRN50064
ARIS Log Number269517
Keywordshabitat, mineralization, species diversity, stick nest, woodrat

The potential role of two species of pack rats (Neotoma albigula) and Neotoma micropus) as keystone ecological engineers was examined by estimating the species diversity of invertebrates living in the nest middens, and nitrogen mineralization rates in soils associated with the middens. Although pack-rat middens in tarbush (Flourensia cernua) shrublands were smaller than those in creosotebush (Larrea tridentata) shrublands, they housed a higher abundance and diversity of arthropods. The Neotoma spp. middens were an important microhabitat for crickets (Gryllus sp.), wolf spiders (Lycosa spp.), and lycid beetle larvae (Lycidae) in all of the shrub habitats. There were five arthropod taxa that occupied all middens in the creosotebush shrubland, and 12 arthropod taxa that occupied all middens in the tarbush shrubland. Soils associated with pack-rat middens had significantly higher soil organic-matter content than reference soils. Nitrogen mineralization was significantly higher in soils associated with pack-rat middens than in reference soils. Neotoma spp. create habitats with moderate microclimates that are essential for several invertebrates, thus contributing to maintenance of biodiversity. The effects of middens on soil organic matter and nitrogen mineralization create nutrient-rich patches. Neotoma spp. affect biodiversity and critical ecosystem processes, thus supporting the designation of keystone ecological engineers. © 2010 Published by Elsevier Ltd.