Long-term insights into the influence of precipitation on community dynamics in desert rodents


Arid systems are characterized by spatiotemporal variability in resources and, as such, make ideal systems for examining the role of resource limitation in the long-term dynamics of populations. Using 28 years of data, we examine the long-term relationships of 3 guilds of desert rodent consumers with precipitation and primary productivity in a changing environment. Lags in rodent response to precipitation increased with increasing trophic level over the entire time series, consistent with resource limitation. However, we found that consumer-resource dynamics are complex and variable through time. Precipitation exhibited increasing influence on both primary producers and consumers in this system over time. Experimental evidence suggests that reorganization of community composition, coincident with environmental change, likely explains some of the increasing influence of precipitation. Additional, indirect evidence suggests some role for increasing shrub density and changing precipitation regimes. Results from our long-term study demonstrate that the global phenomena of changing precipitation regimes, increasing frequency of extreme climatic events, and shrub encroachment are likely to have strong, interactive impacts in reorganizing ecological communities, with significant consequences for ecosystem dynamics.

Journal of Mammalogy