Rodents, plants, and precipitation: spatial and temporal dynamics of consumers and resources


  • S. K. Morgan Ernest,

  • James H. Brown,

  • Robert R. Parmenter

S. K. M. Ernest, J. H. Brown and R. R. Parmenter, Dept of Biology, Univ. of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131, USA (


Resource/consumer dynamics are potentially mediated by both limiting resources and biotic interactions. We examined temporal correlations between precipitation, plant cover, and rodent density, with varying time lags using long-term data from two sites in the Chihuahuan desert of North America: the Sevilleta Long-term Ecological Research site (LTER), New Mexico, USA and a site near Portal, Arizona, USA. We also calculated the spatial correlations in precipitation, plant cover, and rodent dynamics among six sites, five at Sevilleta and one at Portal. At Sevilleta, all three variables were temporally correlated, with plant cover responding to precipitation during the same growing season and rodent populations lagging at least one season behind. At Portal, plant stem count was also correlated with precipitation during the same growing season, but there was no significant correlation between rodents and either precipitation or plant growth. Spatial correlations in plant cover and rodent populations between sites reflected the localized nature of summer rainfall, so that sites with highly correlated summer precipitation exhibited higher correlations in plant cover and rodent populations. In general, our results indicate that limiting resources influence consumer dynamics, but these dynamics also depend crucially on the biotic interactions in the system.