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Ecosystem engineering by digging mammals: effects on soil fertility and condition in Tasmanian temperate woodland


Davies, GTO and Kirkpatrick, JB and Cameron, EZ and Carver, S and Johnson, CN, Ecosystem engineering by digging mammals: effects on soil fertility and condition in Tasmanian temperate woodland, Royal Society Open Science, 6, (1) Article 180621. ISSN 2054-5703 (2019) [Refereed Article]


Copyright Statement

Copyright 2019 The Authors. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

DOI: doi:10.1098/rsos.180621


Many small- and medium-sized mammals dig for their food. This activity potentially affects soil condition and fertility. Digging is well developed especially in Australian mammals, many of which have recently become rare or extinct. We measured the effects of digging by mammals on soil in a Tasmanian temperate dry sclerophyll forest with an intact mammal community. The density of diggings was 5812 ha−1, affecting 11% of the forest floor. Diggings were created at a rate of around 3113 diggings ha−1 yr−1, disturbing 6.5% of the forest floor and displacing 7.1 m3 ha−1 of soil annually. Most diggings were made by eastern bettongs (Bettongia gaimardi) and short-beaked echidnas (Tachyglossus aculeatus). Many (approx. 30%) fresh diggings consisted of re-excavations of old diggings. Novel diggings displaced 5 m3 ha yr−1 of soil. Diggings acted as traps for organic matter and sites for the formation of new soil, which had higher fertility and moisture content and lower hardness than undisturbed topsoil. These effects on soil fertility and structure were strongest in habitats with dry and poor soil. Creation of fine-scaled heterogeneity by mammals, and amelioration of dry and infertile soil, is a valuable ecosystem service that could be restored by reintroduction of digging mammals to habitats from which they have declined or gone extinct.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:ecosystem services, marsupial, monotreme, soil disturbance, ecological restoration, bioturbation, bettong, echidna
Research Division:Biological Sciences
Research Group:Ecology
Research Field:Terrestrial ecology
Objective Division:Environmental Management
Objective Group:Terrestrial systems and management
Objective Field:Terrestrial biodiversity
UTAS Author:Davies, GTO (Mr Gareth Davies)
UTAS Author:Kirkpatrick, JB (Professor James Kirkpatrick)
UTAS Author:Cameron, EZ (Professor Elissa Cameron)
UTAS Author:Carver, S (Associate Professor Scott Carver)
UTAS Author:Johnson, CN (Professor Christopher Johnson)
ID Code:131287
Year Published:2019
Web of Science® Times Cited:19
Deposited By:Zoology
Deposited On:2019-03-12
Last Modified:2020-07-22
Downloads:48 View Download Statistics

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