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Land use and cover effects on an ecosystem engineer

Duncan, Sarah I., Pynne, J.T., Parsons, Elizabeth I., Fletcher, Robert J., Austin, James D., Castleberry, Steven B., Conner, L. Mike, Gitzen, Robert A., Barbour, Michael, McCleery, Robert A.
Forest ecology and management 2020 v.456 pp. 117642
Geomys, Pinus palustris, data collection, ecosystem engineers, ecosystems, forest management, forests, gophers, humans, land use change, landscapes, models, planning, surveys, urban areas, urbanization, Southeastern United States
Human induced land-use change in the form of urbanization and agriculture are rapidly transforming our planet’s terrestrial landscapes and causing the loss of species at unprecedented rates. Studies documenting the impacts of development are extensive; however, less is known about the scale at which species respond to development and specific features of altered landscapes that make them vulnerable. This shortcoming may be due to the difficulty of collecting data across large spatial extents, but filling these information gaps are critical, particularly for species that have a disproportionate influence on ecosystems, such as ecosystem engineers. One such species, the southeastern pocket gopher (Geomys pinetis), has been declining throughout its range (southeastern United States) and continued loss will likely have strong effects on the imperiled longleaf pine ecosystem in which it is closely associated. Using range-wide data from presence-absence surveys and publicly available presence-only data, we used recent advances in species distribution modeling to understand this ecosystem engineer’s associations with extensive land use and cover changes. Our study showed that pocket gophers inhabit a variety of land-use types, including regions with low levels of anthropogenic development, but are largely absent from intensely urbanized areas and closed-canopy forests. Conservation planning to reduce the spread of extensive development and forest management strategies to reduce closed-canopy systems will be instrumental in reducing the decline of the species and ultimately protection of the longleaf pine ecosystem. The approach used in this study will be increasingly beneficial for understanding species response to land-use change.