Effects of Plains Pocket Gopher (Geomys bursarius) Disturbances on Tallgrass-prairie Plant Community Structure
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Our objective was to evaluate the effects of soil disturbances created by the plains pocket gopher (Geomys bursarius) on the structure of a tallgrass-prairie plant community. We predicted that soil mounds and burrows would provide sites for the establishment of subordinate plant species, thereby increasing regional plant community richness in this ecosystem that is highly dominated by perennial C4tallgrasses. Our results, however, revealed that plant species richness and biomass were temporarily decreased or unaffected in areas disturbed by gophers. Moreover, the species found locally on mounds and burrows were a subset of the dominant plants present in the undisturbed plant community and graminoids were more frequent on disturbances than forbs. Our results indicate that perennial graminoids predominate in the rapid recovery of vegetation on pocket gopher mounds and burrows. This preempts the establishment of less frequent forbs and, contrary to our predictions, decreases plant community richness.