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Boundary processes between a desert sand dune community and an encroaching suburban landscape

  • Author(s): Barrows, Cameron W.;
  • Allen, M F;
  • Rotenberry, J T
  • et al.

In contrast to the body of work in more mesic habitats, few studies have examined boundary processes between natural and anthropogenic desert landscapes. Our research examined processes occurring at boundaries between a desert sand dune community and an encroaching suburban habitat. We measured responses to an anthropogenic boundary by species from multiple trophic levels, and incorporated measures of habitat suitability, and temporal variation, at multiple spatial scales. At an edge versus core habitat scale the only aeolian sand species that demonstrated an unambiguous negative response to the anthropogenic habitat edges was the flat-tailed homed lizard (Phrynosoma mcallii). Conversely loggerhead shrikes (Lanius ludovicianus) demonstrated a positive response to that edge. At a finer scale, species that exhibited a response to a habitat edge within the first 250 m included the horned lizards along with desert kangaroo rats (Dipodomys deserti). The latter species' response was confined to 25 In from the edge. For the flat-tailed horned lizard, edge effects were measured up to 150 m from the habitat boundary. Three potential causal hypotheses were explored to explain the edge effect on horned lizards: (1) invasions of exotic ant species reducing potential prey for the lizards; (2) road avoidance and road associated mortalities; and (3) predation from a suite of avian predators whose occurrence and abundance may be augmented by resources available in the suburban habitat. We rejected the exotic ant hypothesis due to the absence of exotic ants within the boundary region, and because native ant species (prey for horned lizards) did not show an edge effect. Our data supported the predation and road mortality hypotheses. Mechanisms for regulating population dynamics of desert species are often "bottom-up," stochastic processes driven by precipitation. The juxtaposition of an anthropogenic edge appears to have created a shift to a "top-down," predator-mediated dynamic for these lizards. (c) 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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