The role of pocket gophers as subterranean ecosystem engineers

O. J. Reichman, Eric W. Seabloom

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

274 Scopus citations


Pocket gophers (Geomyidae) and their ecological cognates worldwide have profound impacts on ecosystems, from consuming vegetation to altering the soil physically. The rodents excavate vast burrow systems and deposit tailings in abandoned tunnels and on the ground surface. Energetic costs of excavations are extremely high, placing a premium on optimizing the location of burrows. The resulting disturbance patterns alter physical and biotic processes fundamentally. Recent studies reveal that the extensive excavations and their associated impacts generate a dynamic mosaic of nutrients and soil conditions that promotes diversity and maintains disturbance-dependent components of plant communities. Furthermore, these disturbances significantly accelerate erosion and downslope soil movement on shallow slopes and inhibit them on steep slopes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)44-49
Number of pages6
JournalTrends in Ecology and Evolution
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2002

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We acknowledge the National Science Foundation (#DEB-98-06377) and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for supporting some of the research presented in this article. This work was conducted at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, a Center funded by NSF (Grant #DEB-00-72909), the University of California, and the UC Santa Barbara campus.


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