High densities of an aridland granivore, Ord's kangaroo rat (Dipodomys ordii), have been documented in floodplain habitats along the Yampa River in northwestern Colorado. Despite a high probability of inundation and attendant high mortality during the spring flood period, the habitat is consistently recolonized. To understand factors that potentially make riparian habitats attractive to D. ordii, we compared density and spatial pattern of seeds, density of a competitor (western harvester ant, Pogonomyrmex occidentalis), and digging energetics within floodplain habitats and between floodplain and adjacent upland habitats. Seed density within the floodplain was greatest in the topographically high (rarely flooded) floodplain and lowest immediately after a spring flood in the topographically low (frequently flooded) floodplain. Seed densities in adjacent upland habitat that never floods were higher than the lowest floodplain habitat. In the low floodplain prior to flooding, seeds had a clumped spatial pattern, which D. ordii is adept at exploiting; after spring flooding, a more random pattern resulted. Populations of the western harvester ant were low in the floodplain relative to the upland. Digging by D. ordii was energetically less expensive in floodplain areas than in upland areas. Despite the potential for mortality due to annual spring flooding, the combination of less competition from harvester ants and lower energetic costs of digging might promote the use of floodplain habitat by D. ordii.
Additional publication details
Ord's kangaroo rats living in floodplain habitats: Factors contributing to habitat attraction