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PLoS One. 2013 May 24;8(5):e64935. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0064935. Print 2013.

Morphological adaptations for digging and climate-impacted soil properties define pocket gopher (Thomomys spp.) distributions.

Author information

1
Department of Biology, Stanford University, Stanford, California, United States of America. aemarcy@gmail.com

Abstract

Species ranges are mediated by physiology, environmental factors, and competition with other organisms. The allopatric distribution of five species of northern Californian pocket gophers (Thomomys spp.) is hypothesized to result from competitive exclusion. The five species in this environmentally heterogeneous region separate into two subgenera, Thomomys or Megascapheus, which have divergent digging styles. While all pocket gophers dig with their claws, the tooth-digging adaptations of subgenus Megascapheus allow access to harder soils and climate-protected depths. In a Northern Californian locality, replacement of subgenus Thomomys with subgenus Megascapheus occurred gradually during the Pleistocene-Holocene transition. Concurrent climate change over this transition suggests that environmental factors--in addition to soil--define pocket gopher distributional limits. Here we show 1) that all pocket gophers occupy the subset of less energetically costly soils and 2) that subgenera sort by percent soil clay, bulk density, and shrink-swell capacity (a mineralogical attribute). While clay and bulk density (without major perturbations) stay constant over decades to millennia, low precipitation and high temperatures can cause shrink-swell clays to crack and harden within days. The strong yet underappreciated interaction between soil and moisture on the distribution of vertebrates is rarely considered when projecting species responses to climatic change. Furthermore, increased precipitation alters the weathering processes that create shrink-swell minerals. Two projected outcomes of ongoing climate change--higher temperatures and precipitation--will dramatically impact hardness of soil with shrink-swell minerals. Current climate models do not include factors controlling soil hardness, despite its impact on all organisms that depend on a stable soil structure.

PMID:
23717675
PMCID:
PMC3663803
DOI:
10.1371/journal.pone.0064935
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article
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