Bunchgrass Ridge

Ecology and restoration of conifer-invaded meadows:
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3. Gopher disturbance and meadow community structure
 
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Gopher disturbance

 
A. Succession on mounds
B. Community structureNew results
 
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Western pocket gopher digging
Western pocket gopher,
Thomomys mazama
Photo © William Leonard

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Soil disturbances by the western pocket gopher, Thomomys mazama, are conspicuous features of mountain meadows throughout the Cascades. Through their tunneling and mounding activities, gophers

  • initiate succession by removing or burying plants
  • reduce the dominance of grasses and increase the diversity of less competitive forbs (and the animals and insects that depend on them)
  • increase the heterogeneity of species composition on mounds and at larger spatial scales within meadows

Most studies of the relationships between gopher disturbance and plant community structure have been conducted in low-elevation prairies or grasslands of central and eastern North America. Studies from higher-elevation mountain ecosystems are less common.

At Bunchgrass Ridge we have explored these relationships at two spatial scales—individual mounds and larger areas of meadow that encompass varying amounts of disturbance. In addition, we have considered the influence of castings, a distinctive feature of systems that experience a deep winter snowpack.

   A. Plant succession on gopher mounds
   B. Contributions of gopher mounds and castings
         to meadow community structure
New results
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Soil disturbance by gophers
Soil disturbance by gophers
Gopher activity disturbs the soil, initiating succession and enhancing plant species diversity and heterogeneity.