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Citation. Huntly, N.; Inouye, R. 1988. Pocket gophers in ecosystems: patterns and mechanisms. BioScience 38(11):786-793. (Highlighted in The New York Times, 6 December 1988.). [1072 LTER]
Abstract. Pocket gophers, despite their relatively small size, are an important element controlling ecosystem structure and development. Mielke (1977) argues that "...Geomyidae provide a dynamic force to direct the biogeochemical attributes of the North American prairie lands.... The activities of fossorial rodents may provide an explanation for the genesis of North American Prairie soils," and Grinnell (1923) asserts that "... our native plant live, on hill and mountainside, in canyon and mountain meadow, would soon begin to depreciate, were the gopher population completely destroyed." Effects on the productivity, heterogeneity, and trophic structure of ecosystems, occurring on various temporal and spatial scales, have been described for pocket gophers. Gophers influence the physical environment, altering patterns and rates of soil development and nutrient availability, microtopography, and the consequent abiotic environment. They affect the demography and abundance of plant species, changing vegetational patterning and diversity. They affect the behavior and abundance of other herbivores, from grasshoppers and ground squirrels to large grazers. In this article, we review the reported effects of pocket gophers on ecosystems and discuss their probable underlying mechanisms. Like other herbivores, gophers interact with their environment, both physical and biotic, by diverse pathways, only one of which is direct herbivory. In our studies of pocket gophers, we ask how the biotic processes of herbivory and competition interact in the context of the entire ecosystem to produce the observed patterns of diversity, productivity, and species composition. In suggesting mechanisms for the observed patterns we draw heavily on our ongoing studies of pocket gophers in old-field ecosystems at Cedar Creek Natural History Area, Minnesota.
Keywords. pocket gophers, Geomyidae, ecosystem effects