Small mammals play important roles in desert ecosystems. By consuming seeds, they influence the plant community, and through digging and the creation of burrows they help to aerate the soil making it more hospitable to plants and better able to absorb moisture. Small mammals are also a significant source of prey for many larger mammals and birds of prey. Small mammals occupy relatively small home ranges, and they are dependent upon on the appropriate resources being present in that area for their survival. This means that their presence or absence in an area can tell us a lot about the condition of that ecosystem. Additionally, because small mammals have a relatively short lifespan and communities can change rapidly, they serve as good indicator species for changes occurring in the environment.
Borderlands Research Institute is actively engaged in research to better understand communities of small mammals in the Chihuahuan desert. Some of BRI’s small mammal research includes:
Use of small mammal surveys, in conjunction with other survey techniques, to evaluate the overall biodiversity in different habitats throughout west Texas
Evaluating the response of small mammal communities to wildlife and grazing pressure
Use of translocation to re-establish black-tailed prairie dog populations