Tale of two metrics: density and biomass in a desert rodent community

Hernández, L., J. W. Laundré, A. González-Romero, J. López-Portillo, and K. M. Grajales

Numerous studies have been made of rodent population and community dynamics, especially in arid ecosystems. Most have centered on understanding how total and species-specific densities of rodents change over time. The standing biomass each species contributes also is important to the energy available to the mesocarnivore community. Although density and standing biomass are related, how they might differ and if those differences are of importance to community structure and function have not received much attention. We analyzed 12 years of rodent density and body mass data from the Chihuahuan Desert in northern Mexico. Data were collected yearly in spring and fall from radial livetrapping webs. Total density and biomass changed significantly in a parallel manner from year to year, and both were related to precipitation and percent cover of grass and forbs. Based on density and biomass, the rodent community was dominated by 2 or 3 principal species. However, on a species-specific level, the numerically dominant species was a small-bodied granivore (Chaetodipus nelsoni), and a large-bodied folivore (Neotoma albigula) dominated in biomass. As total density increased, the proportion contributed by dominant species decreased. As total biomass increased, the proportion in the 2 dominant species increased and accounted for approximately 80% of total biomass. Over the 12 years of the study, species distributions based on density showed no directional change. In contrast, biomass of the rodent community gradually concentrated in a single, large-bodied folivore, N. albigula. Although total density and biomass responded similarly to precipitation and plant productivity, considerable differences between these 2 characteristics existed in their species-specific contributions to and changes within the community. The significance of these differences relative to foraging strategies and variable feeding opportunities within the community is discussed.

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Hernández, L., J. W. Laundré, A. González-Romero, J. López-Portillo, and K. M. Grajales. 2011. Tale of two metrics: density and biomass in a desert rodent community. Journal of Mammalogy 92(4):840-851.