Small mammal herbivory and grassland recovery potential in the Chihuahuan Desert

TitleSmall mammal herbivory and grassland recovery potential in the Chihuahuan Desert
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsSVEJCAR LAUREN, Bestelmeyer BT, James DK, Peters DC
JournalJournal of Arid Environments
Start Page11
Date Published07/2019
ARIS Log Number340151
KeywordsBouteloua eriopoda, Chihuahan Desert, herbivory, perennial grass regeneration, prosopis glandulosa, rodents

In many arid ecosystems, shrub encroachment is associated with the loss of valuable perennial grasses. Increased native rodent and lagomorph abundance associated with shrub encroachment can have negative effects on grass persistence and restoration. In the Chihuahuan Desert, herbivore abundance can be up to two times greater in degraded Prosopis glandulosa (honey mesquite) shrublands than in intact Bouteloua eriopoda (black grama) grasslands. We tested the recovery potential of B. eriopoda patches in shrub-dominated, grass-dominated and ecotone (grass and shrub co-dominated) states that were exposed to or protected from native rodent and lagomorph herbivores. Herbivore exclosures and control quadrats were established in a replicated blocked design. A disturbance of 40cm x 40cm was created in the center of a B. eriopoda grass patch in each treatment quadrat in 2001, whereby all above ground biomass was removed in order to examine the ability of B. eriopoda to recolonize disturbed areas. The disturbed areas were measured for recruitment and re-establishment of B. eriopoda in 2002, 2005 and 2008. Although herbivore abundance was greater in shrub-dominated states than the other states for the given time periods, there was little difference in recruitment and re-establishment of B. eriopoda among states and in response to rodent exclusion. Because increased herbivore abundance in shrub-dominated states did not constrain grass recovery potential, other factors are likely to be more important constraints on perennial grasses recovery in the Chihuahuan Desert.