Are small rodents key promoters of ecosystem restoration in harsh environments? A case study of abandoned croplands on Mongolian grasslands

Y. Yoshihara, T. Okuro, J. Undarmaa, T. Sasaki, K. Takeuchi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

We focused on the potential contribution of fossorial rodents to recovery of degraded abandoned Mongolian croplands. From field observations and the literature, we determined that plant litter and soil crusting were the main factors preventing establishment or growth of the perennial grass Elymus chinensis (Poaceae) on these croplands. We hypothesized that small fossorial rodents such as Mongolian gerbils promote grass establishment and growth by clearing litter and destroying crusts. We designed a path model linking number of burrows to patch size and plant volume of E. chinensis. As we hypothesized, small rodents increased the patch size of E. chinensis through reduction of litter cover. However, unexpectedly, we could not find significant effects on E. chinensis via crust thickness. Our results suggest that litter removal by the rodents gave E. chinensis suitable space that was free of competitors; this allowed expansion of the E. chinensis patches. Any effect of soil crusting on plant volume could not be explained simply by the variables we used, probably because some other mechanism, such as temporal variation in the crust, was involved. We demonstrate that small rodents are key agents in the recovery of degraded grasslands.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)364-368
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Arid Environments
Volume73
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2009 Mar
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Ecosystem engineer
  • Elymus chinensis
  • Mongolian gerbil
  • Plant litter
  • Recovery
  • Soil crust

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Earth-Surface Processes

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