Species’ traits help predict small mammal responses to habitat homogenization by an invasive grass

Ecological Applications
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Abstract

Invasive plants can negatively affect native species, however, the strength, direction, and shape of responses may vary depending on the type of habitat alteration and the natural history of native species. To prioritize conservation of vulnerable species, it is therefore critical to effectively predict species’ responses to invasive plants, which may be facilitated by a framework based on species’ traits. We studied the population and community responses of small mammals and changes in habitat heterogeneity across a gradient of cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) cover, a widespread invasive plant in North America. We live-trapped small mammals over two summers and assessed the effect of cheatgrass on native small mammal abundance, richness, and species-specific and trait-based occupancy, while accounting for detection probability and other key habitat elements. Abundance was only estimated for the most common species, deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus). All species were pooled for the trait-based occupancy analysis to quantify the ability of small mammal traits (habitat association, mode of locomotion, and diet) to predict responses to cheatgrass invasion. Habitat heterogeneity decreased with cheatgrass cover. Deer mouse abundance increased marginally with cheatgrass. Species richness did not vary with cheatgrass, however, pocket mouse (Perognathus spp.) and harvest mouse (Reithrodontomys spp.) occupancy tended to decrease and increase, respectively, with cheatgrass cover, suggesting a shift in community composition. Cheatgrass had little effect on occupancy for deer mice, 13-lined ground squirrels (Spermophilus tridecemlineatus), and Ord's kangaroo rat (Dipodomys ordii). Species’ responses to cheatgrass primarily corresponded with our a priori predictions based on species’ traits. The probability of occupancy varied significantly with a species’ habitat association but not with diet or mode of locomotion. When considered within the context of a rapid habitat change, such as caused by invasive plants, relevant species’ traits may provide a useful framework for predicting species’ responses to a variety of habitat disturbances. Understanding which species are likely to be most affected by exotic plant invasion will help facilitate more efficient, targeted management and conservation of native species and habitats.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Species’ traits help predict small mammal responses to habitat homogenization by an invasive grass
Series title Ecological Applications
DOI 10.1002/eap.1535
Volume 27
Issue 5
Year Published 2017
Language English
Publisher Ecological Society of America
Contributing office(s) Coop Res Unit Seattle
Description 15 p.
First page 1451
Last page 1465