Dispersion of kangaroo rat mounds at multiple scales in New Mexico, USA

Robert L. Schooley, John A. Wiens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Burrowing mammals create disturbances that increase the ecological heterogeneity of landscapes. In desert systems, banner-tailed kangaroo rats (Dipodomys spectabilis) construct large mounds that greatly influence the spatial patterning of soils, plants, and animals. The overall effects of the patches generated by D. spectabilis depend on the dispersion patterns of the mounds; these patterns may be sensitive to scale and landscape position. We examined the distribution of D. spectabilis mounds across multiple scales in four 40-ha grassland plots in New Mexico, USA. We used Ripley's K-function for our point-pattern analysis. The dispersion patterns of mounds were generally scale-sensitive but depended somewhat on plot-level densities, which were related to topographic position and grazing history. Mound spacing was either regular or random at small scales (0-50 m), random or aggregated at intermediate scales (50-300 m), and aggregated at large scales (300-3000 m). This scale-dependency of pattern reflected spatial domains in which different biotic (territoriality, dispersal, grazing) and abiotic (soil texture and drainage) factors exerted strong influences. How other organisms perceive the spatial patterning of mounds will depend on the extent of their movements. Patches may appear regular to one species but aggregated to another. The dispersion of D. spectabilis mounds also has implications for the spatial structuring of desert rodent communities. D. spectabilis excludes smaller species of kangaroo rats from areas around their mounds; they create spatial heterogeneity in behavioral dominance that may influence the distribution of subordinate species at multiple scales.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)267-277
Number of pages11
JournalLandscape Ecology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Burrows
  • Desert rodents
  • Dipodomys spectabilis
  • Grazing
  • K-function
  • Patch disturbances
  • Scale
  • Semiarid grasslands
  • Spatial point patterns

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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