Abstract Title

Unexpected Properties of Habitat Altered by Ecosystem Engineers: A Pygmy Rabbit Case Study

Additional Funding Sources

The project described was supported by a student grant from the UI Office of Undergraduate Research.

Abstract

Ecosystem engineers are species that influence resource availability by physically altering the environment, which can include modifying habitat structure that affects accessibility of visual information by blocking sightlines. To my knowledge, no study has investigated how ecosystem engineers might influence visibility, which is an important property of habitat. My objective is to evaluate how the activities of a sagebrush-steppe ecosystem engineer, the pygmy rabbit (Brachylagus idahoensis), affect visibility around their burrows. By browsing, burrowing, and defecating, pygmy rabbits influence growth and structure of vegetation. I hypothesize that their activities increase visibility around their burrows. I predict that visibility will be 1) more extensive close to burrow entrances; 2) positively correlated with duration of burrow occupancy; and 3) higher at occupied versus unoccupied patches. I will assess visibility at burrows that have been occupied for 4-20 years, as well as at unoccupied patches at a study site in east-central Idaho. I will characterize visibility at ground level using a terrestrial laser scanner and the R package viewshed3d. This project will advance understanding about the effect of this ecosystem engineer and properties of habitat that are influenced by ecosystem engineers in general, and will contribute to the emerging field of ‘viewshed ecology’.

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Unexpected Properties of Habitat Altered by Ecosystem Engineers: A Pygmy Rabbit Case Study

Ecosystem engineers are species that influence resource availability by physically altering the environment, which can include modifying habitat structure that affects accessibility of visual information by blocking sightlines. To my knowledge, no study has investigated how ecosystem engineers might influence visibility, which is an important property of habitat. My objective is to evaluate how the activities of a sagebrush-steppe ecosystem engineer, the pygmy rabbit (Brachylagus idahoensis), affect visibility around their burrows. By browsing, burrowing, and defecating, pygmy rabbits influence growth and structure of vegetation. I hypothesize that their activities increase visibility around their burrows. I predict that visibility will be 1) more extensive close to burrow entrances; 2) positively correlated with duration of burrow occupancy; and 3) higher at occupied versus unoccupied patches. I will assess visibility at burrows that have been occupied for 4-20 years, as well as at unoccupied patches at a study site in east-central Idaho. I will characterize visibility at ground level using a terrestrial laser scanner and the R package viewshed3d. This project will advance understanding about the effect of this ecosystem engineer and properties of habitat that are influenced by ecosystem engineers in general, and will contribute to the emerging field of ‘viewshed ecology’.