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Ecology. 2011 Jun;92(6):1366-75.

Environmental change and declining resource availability for small-mammal communities in the Great Basin.

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Utah Museum of Natural History, University of Utah, 1390 East Presidents Circle, Salt Lake City, Utah 84112, USA.


Changes in climate and land use can impact natural systems across all levels of ecological organization. Most documented and anticipated effects consider species' properties, including phenologies, geographic distributions, and abundances. Responses of higher-level aggregate community or ecosystem properties have not been considered as they are assumed to be relatively stable due to compensatory dynamics and diversity-stability relationships. However, this assumption may not be as fundamental as previously thought. Here we assess stability in the aggregate properties of total abundance, biomass, and energy consumption for small-mammal communities in the Great Basin, using paired historical and modern survey data spanning nearly a century of environmental change. Results show marked declines in each aggregate property independent of spatial scale, elevation, or habitat type, and a reallocation of available biomass and energy favoring diet and habitat generalists. Because aggregate properties directly reflect resource availability, our findings indicate a regionwide decline in resources of 50% over the past century, which may signal a resource crisis. This work illustrates the power of using aggregate properties as indicators of ecological conditions and environmental change at broad spatial and temporal scales.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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