Effects of kangaroo rat exclusion on vegetation structure and plant species diversity in the Chihuahuan Desert

Edward J. Heske, James H. Brown, Qinfeng Guo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Long-term (1977-90) experimental exclusion of three species of kangaroo rats from study plots in the Chihuahuan Desert resulted in significant increases in abundance of a tall annual grass (Aristida adscensionis) and a perennial bunch grass (Eragrostis lehmanniana). This change in the vegetative cover affected use of these plots by several other rodent species and by foraging birds. The mechanism producing this change probably involves a combination of decreased soil disturbance and reduced predation on large-sized seeds when kangaroo rats are absent. Species diversity of summer annual dicots was greater on plots where kangaroo rats were present, as predicted by keystone predator models. However, it is not clear whether this was caused directly by activities of the kangaroo rats or indirectly as a consequence of the increase in grass cover. No experimental effect on species diversity of winter annual dicots was detected. Our study site was located in a natural transition between desert scrub and grassland, where abiotic conditions and the effects of organisms may be particularly influential in determining the structure and composition of vegetation. Under these conditions kangaroo rats have a dramatic effect on plant cover and species composition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)520-524
Number of pages5
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1993
Externally publishedYes


  • Chihuahuan Desert
  • Dipodomys
  • Keystone species
  • Plant-animal interactions
  • Species diversity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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