Biological Invasions

, Volume 12, Issue 8, pp 2429–2439 | Cite as

Structural changes in vegetation coincident with annual grass invasion negatively impacts sprint velocity of small vertebrates

Original Paper


Sagebrush ecosystems in the intermountain west of the United States are being threatened by conversion to the non-native grass, cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum). The dramatic shift in the physical structure of vegetation coincident with cheatgrass invasion likely has negative impacts on animal communities, yet these structural impacts have not been well-studied. In a previous study, dense cheatgrass stems reduced sprint velocity for the flattened, wide-bodied desert horned lizard (Phrynosoma platyrhinos). Here, we asked if a decrease in sprint velocity due to cheatgrass impediment can be generalized to the suite of small vertebrates inhabiting the sagebrush ecosystems of western Utah. We evaluated sprint performance of the common rodent (n = 3) and lizard (n = 4) species on two raceway types, cheatgrass and no-cheatgrass, and hypothesized that body size, body shape, and form of movement are important factors influencing sprint velocity through dense cheatgrass stems. All species showed significant reductions in speed on cheatgrass versus no-cheatgrass raceways, with percent reduction greatest for larger, wider, or hopping organisms compared to smaller, more slender, or running organisms. Of concern, surveys for rodents and lizards at our study areas support a common pattern: lower abundances of small vertebrates, as well as a loss of rodent species richness, in areas infested with cheatgrass compared to intact, native sagebrush communities. By extension, we expect a negative impact on animal communities in other semi-arid regions experiencing dramatic shifts in vegetation structure upon invasion by non-native grasses that are capable of forming dense stands in the interspaces of native desert plants [e.g., Sonoran desert invaded by buffelgrass (Pennisetum ciliare)].


Utah sagebrush ecosystems Vegetation structure Sprint performance Heteromyid rodents Lizards Species richness and abundance 



We thank E. Rickart at the Utah Museum of Natural History for allowing access to preserved specimens. We thank E. W. Evans, M. Pendergast, B. Sessions, A. Walker, J. Walker for help capturing lizards. We thank E. W. Schupp for providing lodging, warehouse space, and tools at the Tintic Research Station in Tintic, Utah, USA. S. Roberts and W. Longland provided friendly reviews of this manuscript. We thank three anonymous reviewers for improving this manuscript. Any use of trade, product, or firm names in this publication is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the US government.


  1. Ballinger RE, Watts KS (1995) Path to extinction: impact of vegetational change on lizard populations on Arapaho Prairie in the Nebraska Sandhills. Am Midl Nat 134:413–417CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bartholomew GA Jr, Cary GR (1954) Locomotion in pocket mice. J Mammal 35:386–392CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bartholomew GA Jr, Caswell HH Jr (1951) Locomotion in kangaroo rats and its adaptive significance. J Mammal 32:155–169CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Belnap J, Phillips SL (2001) Soil biota in an ungrazed grassland: response to annual grass (Bromus tectorum) invasion. Ecol Appl 11:1261–1275CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Billings WD (1990) Bromus tectorum, a biotic cause of ecosystem impoverishment in the Great Basin. In: Woodwell GM (ed) The earth in transition: patterns and processes of biotic impoverishment. Cambridge University Press, New York, pp 301–322Google Scholar
  6. Bradley BA, Mustard JF (2006) Characterizing the landscape dynamics of an invasive plant and risk of invasion using remote sensing. Ecol Appl 16:1132–1147CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Brandt CA, Rickard WH (1994) Alien taxa in the North American shrub-steppe four decades after cessation of livestock grazing and cultivation agriculture. Biol Conserv 68:95–105CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Brooks ML, D’Antonio CM, Richardson DM, Grace JB, Keeley JE, DiTomaso JM, Hobbs RJ, Pellant M, Pyke D (2004) Effects of invasive alien plants on fire regimes. Bioscience 54:677–688CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Brownsmith CB (1977) Foraging rates of starlings in two habitats. Condor 79:386–387CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Burt WH, Grossenheider RP (1980) A field guide to the mammals: North America north of Mexico. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, p 289Google Scholar
  11. Castellano MJ, Valone TJ (2006) Effects of livestock removal and perennial grass recovery on the lizards of a desertified arid grassland. J Arid Environ 66:87–95CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Christensen NL, Bartuska AM, Brown JH, Carpenter S, D’Antonio C, Francis R, Franklin JF, MacMahon JA, Noss RF, Parsons DJ, Peterson CH, Turner MG, Woodmansee RG (1996) The report of the Ecological Society of America committee on the scientific basis for ecosystem management. Ecol Appl 6:665–691CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Crist TO, Wiens JA (1994) Scale effects of vegetation on forager movement and seed harvesting by ants. Oikos 69:37–46CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Crist TO, Guertin DS, Wiens JA, Milne BT (1992) Animal movement in heterogeneous landscapes: an experiment with Eleodes beetles in shortgrass prairie. Funct Ecol 6:536–544CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Crooks JA (2002) Characterizing ecosystem-level consequences of biological invasions: the role of ecosystem engineers. Oikos 97:153–166CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Djawdan M, Garland T Jr (1988) Maximal running speeds of bipedal and quadrupedal rodents. J Mammal 69:765–772CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Durst SL, Theimer TC, Paxton EH, Sogge MK (2008) Temporal variation in the arthropod community of desert riparian habitats with varying amounts of saltcedar (Tamarix ramosissima). J Arid Environ 72:1644–1653CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Fautin RW (1946) Biotic communities of the northern desert shrub biome in western Utah. Ecol Monogr 16:251–310CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Fielding DJ, Brusven MA, Shafii B, Price WJ (2001) Spatial heterogeneity of low-density populations of Melanoplus sanguinipes (Orthoptera: Acrididae) associated with grazing and vegetation treatments. Canadian Entomologist 133:843–855CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Flanders AA, Kuvlesky WP Jr, Ruthven DC III, Zaiglin RE, Bingham RL, Fulbright TE, Hernández F, Brennan LA (2006) Effects of invasive exotic grasses on South Texas rangeland breeding birds. Auk 123:171–182CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Franklin KA, Lyons K, Nagler PL, Lampkin D, Glenn EP, Molina-Freaner F, Markow T, Huete AR (2006) Buffelgrass (Pennisetum ciliare) land conversion and productivity in the plains of Sonora, Mexico. Biol Conserv 127:62–71CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Gano KA, Rickard WH (1982) Small mammals of a bitterbrush-cheatgrass community. Northwest Sci 56:1–7Google Scholar
  23. Germano DJ, Rathbun GB, Saslaw LR (2001) Managing exotic grasses and conserving declining species. Wildl Soc Bull 29:551–559Google Scholar
  24. Gitzen RA, West SD, Trim BE (2001) Additional information on the distributions of small mammals at the Hanford Site, Washington. Northwest Sci 75:350–362Google Scholar
  25. Green GA, Anthony RG (1989) Nesting success and habitat relationships of Burrowing Owls in the Columbia Basin, Oregon. Condor 91:347–354CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Greenslade PJM (1964) Pitfall trapping as a method for studying populations of Carabidae (Coleoptera). J Anim Ecol 33:301–310CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Groves CR, Steenhof K (1988) Responses of small mammals and vegetation to wildfire in shadscale communities of southwestern Idaho. Northwest Science 62:205–210Google Scholar
  28. Hadden SA, Westbrooke ME (1996) Habitat relationships of the herpetofauna of remnant buloke woodlands of the Wimmera Plains, Victoria. Wildlife Research 23:363–372CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Hawkes CV, Belnap J, D’Antonio C, Firestone MK (2006) Arbuscular mycorrhizal assemblages in native plant roots change in the presence of invasive exotic grasses. Plant Soil 281:369–380CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Herrel A, Meyers JJ, Vanhooydonck B (2002) Relations between microhabitat use and limb shape in phrynosomatid lizards. Biol J Linn Soc 77:149–163CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Humphrey LD, Schupp EW (2001) Seed banks of Bromus tectorum-dominated communities in the Great Basin. Western North American Naturalist 61:85–92Google Scholar
  32. Humphrey LD, Schupp EW (2004) Competition as a barrier to establishment of a native perennial grass (Elymus elymoides) in alien annual grass (Bromus tectorum) communities. J Arid Environ 58:405–422CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Irschick DJ, Jayne BC (1999) Comparative three-dimensional kinematics of the hindlimb for high-speed bipedal and quadrupedal locomotion of lizards. J Exp Biol 202:1047–1065PubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. Jellinek S, Driscoll DA, Kirkpatrick JB (2004) Environmental and vegetation variables have a greater influence than habitat fragmentation in structuring lizard communities in remnant urban bushland. Austral Ecology 29:294–304CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Jones ZF, Bock CE (2005) The Botteri’s Sparrow and exotic Arizona grasslands: an ecological trap or habitat regained? Condor 107:731–741CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Jones ZF, Bock CE, Bock JH (2003) Rodent communities in a grazed and ungrazed Arizona grassland, and a model of habitat relationships among rodents in southwestern grass/shrublands. Am Midl Nat 149:384–394CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Lack D (1933) Habitat selection in birds: with special reference to the effects of afforestation on the Breckland avifauna. J Anim Ecol 2:239–262CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Larrison EJ, Johnson DR (1973) Density changes and habitat affinities of rodents of shadscale and sagebrush associations. Great Basin Naturalist 33:255–264Google Scholar
  39. Lemen CA, Rosenzweig ML (1978) Microhabitat selection in two species of heteromyid rodents. Oecologia 33:127–135CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Macarthur RH (1964) Environmental factors affecting bird species diversity. American Naturalist 98:387–397CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Macarthur RH, Macarthur JW (1961) On bird species diversity. Ecology 42:594–598CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. MacMahon JA (1981) Successional processes: comparisons among biomes with special reference to probable roles of and influences on animals. In: West DC, Shugart HH, Botkin DB (eds) Forest succession: concept and application. Springer, New York, pp 277–304Google Scholar
  43. Mattingly WB, Jayne BC (2005) The choice of arboreal escape paths and its consequences for the locomotor behaviour of four species of Anolis lizards. Anim Behav 70:1239–1250CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. McAdoo JK, Longland WS, Evans RA (1989) Nongame bird community responses to sagebrush invasion of crested wheatgrass seedings. Journal of Wildlife Management 53:494–502CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Newbold TAS (2005) Desert horned lizard (Phrynosoma platyrhinos) locomotor performance: the influence of cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum). Southwestern Naturalist 50:17–23CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Noss RF, LaRoe ET III, Scott JM (1995) Endangered ecosystems of the United States: a preliminary assessment of loss and degradation. United States Department of the Interior National Biological Service, Washington, DC, pp 1–95Google Scholar
  47. Ostoja SM, Schupp EW (2009) Conversion of sagebrush shrublands to exotic annual grasslands negatively impacts small mammal communities. Divers Distrib 15:863–870Google Scholar
  48. Paschke MW, McLendon T, Redente EF (2000) Nitrogen availability and old-field succession in a shortgrass steppe. Ecosystems 3:144–158CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Pianka ER (1966) Convexity, desert lizards, and spatial heterogeneity. Ecology 47:1055–1059CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Price AH (1992) Comparative behavior in lizards of the genus Cnemidophorus (Teiidae), with comments on the evolution of parthenogenesis in reptiles. Copeia 2:323–331CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Rafferty DL, Young JA (2002) Cheatgrass competition and establishment of desert needlegrass seedlings. J Range Manag 55:70–72CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Reynolds HG (1950) Relation of Merriam kangaroo rats to range vegetation in southern Arizona. Ecology 31:456–463CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Rice KJ, Black RA, Radamaker G, Evans RD (1992) Photosynthesis, growth, and biomass allocation in habitat ecotypes of cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum). Funct Ecol 6:32–40CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Richardson DM, Pyšek P, Rejmánek M, Barbour MG, Panetta FD, West CJ (2000) Naturalization and invasion of alien plants: concepts and definitions. Divers Distrib 6:93–107CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Rickard WH, Haverfield LE (1965) A pitfall trapping survey of darkling beetles in desert steppe vegetation. Ecology 46:873–875CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Rogers LE, Hedlund JD (1980) A comparison of small mammal populations occupying three distinct shrub-steppe communities in Eastern Oregon. Northwest Science 54:183–186Google Scholar
  57. Rosenzweig ML (1973) Habitat selection experiments with a pair of coexisting heteromyid rodent species. Ecology 54:111–117CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Rosenzweig ML, Winakur J (1969) Population ecology of desert rodent communities: habitats and environmental complexity. Ecology 50:558–572CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Rowland RH, Turner FB (1964) Correlation of the local distributions of Dipodomys microps and D. merriami and of the annual grass Bromus rubens. Southwest Nat 9:56–61CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Rowland MM, Wisdom MJ, Suring LH, Meinke CW (2006) Greater Sage-grouse as an umbrella species for sagebrush-associated vertebrates. Biol Conserv 129:323–335CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Sammon JG, Wilkins KT (2005) Effects of an invasive grass (Bothriochloa ischaemum) on a grassland rodent community. Tex J Sci 57:371–382Google Scholar
  62. Schooley RL, Sharpe PB, Van Horne B (1996) Can shrub cover increase predation risk for a desert rodent? Can J Zool 74:157–163CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Sokal RR, Rohlf FJ (1995) Biometry: the principles and practice of statistics in biological research. W.H. Freeman, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  64. Sperry LJ, Belnap J, Evans RD (2006) Bromus tectorum invasion alters nitrogen dynamics in an undisturbed arid grassland ecosystem. Ecology 87:603–615CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  65. Stebbins RC (2003) A field guide to western reptiles and amphibians. Houghton Mifflin Company, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  66. Steenhof K, Yensen E, Kochert MN, Gage KL (2006) Populations and habitat relationships of Piute ground squirrels in southwestern Idaho. Western North American Naturalist 66:482–491CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Waser PM, Ayers JM (2003) Microhabitat use and population decline in banner-tailed kangaroo rats. J Mammal 84:1031–1043CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. West NE (1999) Managing for biodiversity of rangelands. In: Collins WW, Qualset CO (eds) Biodiversity in agroecosystems. CRC Press, Boca Raton, pp 101–126Google Scholar
  69. Williams DF, Germano DJ (1992) Recovery of endangered kangaroo rats in the San Joaquin Valley, California. Transactions of the Western Section of the Wildlife Society 28:93–106Google Scholar
  70. Yensen E, Quinney DL, Johnson K, Timmerman K, Steenhof K (1992) Fire, vegetation changes, and population fluctuations of Townsend’s ground squirrels. Am Midl Nat 128:299–312CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Young JA, Evans RA (1978) Population dynamics after wildfires in sagebrush grasslands. J Range Manag 31:283–289CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. P. Rieder
    • 1
    • 2
  • T. A. S. Newbold
    • 1
    • 3
  • S. M. Ostoja
    • 1
    • 4
  1. 1.Ecology CenterUtah State UniversityLoganUSA
  2. 2.Department of Forest, Rangeland, and Watershed StewardshipColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA
  3. 3.Mojave Desert Network, National Park Service Inventory & Monitoring ProgramBoulder CityUSA
  4. 4.United States Geological Survey (USGS), Western Ecological Research Center, Yosemite Field StationEl PortalUSA

Personalised recommendations