Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Pocket gophers serve as ’ecosystem engineers’

03.08.2004


Love them or hate them, pocket gophers have an important effect on the soil and plants where they live. They serve as small "ecosystem engineers" generating major impacts on the physical environment.



Jim Reichman, director of the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) at UC Santa Barbara, will present findings on North American pocket gophers, entitled "Bioturbation by subterranean mammalian herbivores and its impact on ecosystems," at the annual meeting of the Ecology Society of America in Portland, Ore., the first week in August. Eric Seabloom of NCEAS is a co-author.

Pocket gophers are named for their fur-lined pouches located on the outside of their mouths. They use the pouches to carry food, hence the name. The rodents vary in length from six to 13 inches. As with most burrowing mammals, pocket gophers have poor eyesight. However, they compensate for this with other, well-developed senses, such as large whiskers, which are sensitive to movement and help them in dark tunnels. They have powerful claws and teeth for digging. They are vegetarian, or herbivores, surviving mostly on roots.


"Gophers live below ground so people don’t think much about them, but they change the landscape and the nutrient availability of the soil," said Seabloom. "They act like little rototillers, loosening and aerating the soil. They loosen the soil and the speed at which plants decompose, causing higher production of plants, and they may be important to the biodiversity of plants. They definitely have an important effect."

Reichman explained that gophers were part of the natural system historically, a major part of the natural habitat. "Gophers were part of the ecosystem before grazing and before people arrived," he said. He is researching the differential effect that gophers have on native plants versus invasive species. This research is contributing to efforts to restore native habitats.

In his presentation he will explain that gophers have an energetically "expensive" life habit in which burrowing through the soil costs 360 to 3,400 times as much energy as walking the same distance on the surface. To keep up with this output they consume large amounts of vegetation, primarily roots, which significantly impacts plants.

"Excavation behavior, which involves construction of long burrows by displacing soil into mounds on the surface, generates major impacts on the physical environment," said Reichman. "These produce a complex mosaic of nutrients and soil conditions that results in vertical mixing (through burrow collapse and moving deep soil to the surface) and horizontal patchiness (in relation to the hollow burrows, refilled burrows, surrounding soil matrix and surface mounds)."

This research may lead to a better understanding of native ecological communities in California, and perhaps even allow for opportunities to restore native grasslands. He explained that ecological conditions on the planet have deteriorated, but now ecologists are learning more about how natural systems work. He noted that marine reserves are an example of one action that is already improving an ecosystem.

"Ecologists have been known for ’gloom and doom,’ but now we are making recommendations for things that can be done," he said.

Gail Gallessich | EurekAlert!

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Conservationists are sounding the alarm: parrots much more threatened than assumed
15.09.2017 | Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen

nachricht A new indicator for marine ecosystem changes: the diatom/dinoflagellate index
21.08.2017 | Leibniz-Institut für Ostseeforschung Warnemünde

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Highly precise wiring in the Cerebral Cortex

Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.

The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...

Im Focus: Tiny lasers from a gallery of whispers

New technique promises tunable laser devices

Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...

Im Focus: Ultrafast snapshots of relaxing electrons in solids

Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!

When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...

Im Focus: Quantum Sensors Decipher Magnetic Ordering in a New Semiconducting Material

For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.

Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...

Im Focus: Fast, convenient & standardized: New lab innovation for automated tissue engineering & drug

MBM ScienceBridge GmbH successfully negotiated a license agreement between University Medical Center Göttingen (UMG) and the biotech company Tissue Systems Holding GmbH about commercial use of a multi-well tissue plate for automated and reliable tissue engineering & drug testing.

MBM ScienceBridge GmbH successfully negotiated a license agreement between University Medical Center Göttingen (UMG) and the biotech company Tissue Systems...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

“Lasers in Composites Symposium” in Aachen – from Science to Application

19.09.2017 | Event News

I-ESA 2018 – Call for Papers

12.09.2017 | Event News

EMBO at Basel Life, a new conference on current and emerging life science research

06.09.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Comet or asteroid? Hubble discovers that a unique object is a binary

21.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Cnidarians remotely control bacteria

21.09.2017 | Life Sciences

Monitoring the heart's mitochondria to predict cardiac arrest?

21.09.2017 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>