Biodiversity and reduced extinction risks in spatially isolated rodent populations


Mark E. Ritchie E-mail:


Ecologists have rarely explored the potential influence of local (alpha) biodiversity on the stability and local extinction of spatially isolated populations. Twenty years of annual counts of a small, grazing rodent (Utah prairie dogs, Cynomys parvidens) from 20 different isolated local populations (colonies) in southern Utah, U.S.A. were analysed. These prairie dogs exhibited large fluctuations and repeated extinctions at individual colonies during the census period. Frequency of extinction at a colony declined dramatically as the number of locally occurring plant species increased. This pattern was not explained by differences among colonies in plant productivity, plant species composition, colony size, or variability in annual counts. Thus, lower extinction risk of consumer populations may be associated with greater resource diversity, and maintaining high local plant diversity may help sustain spatially isolated herbivore populations in fragmented habitats.