Soil-disturbance by native animals plays a critical role in maintaining healthy Australian landscapes

Authors

  • David J. Eldridge,

  • Alex I. James


  • David Eldridge is a Principal Research Scientist with the Department of Environment and Climate Change (based at the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia; Tel. +61 (0) 2 9385 2194; Email: d.eldridge@unsw.edu.au). Alex James is a PhD student in the same School (a.james@student.unsw.edu.au). Their work in western New South Wales, central Australia, and the Chihuahuan Desert in New Mexico seeks to understand more about the mechanisms by which animals affect soil and ecological processes and the implications for the restoration of degraded arid environments.

Abstract

Summary  Soil-disturbing animals have wide-ranging effects on both biotic and abiotic processes across a number of Australian ecosystems. They alter soil quality by mixing surface soils and trapping litter and water, leading to areas of increased decomposition of organic matter. The foraging pits of indigenous soil-disturbing animals tend to have different soil chemical characteristics, greater levels of infiltration and lower levels of soil density than adjacent areas. Enhanced capture of seeds and water turns disturbance pits into areas of enhanced plant germination. The burrows, pits and mounds of both native and exotic animals provide habitat for a range of vertebrates and invertebrates and contribute to patchiness in the landscape. Given their wide-ranging effects on surface soil and ecological processes, we argue in this review that soil disturbance by native animals has the potential to contribute to restoration of degraded landscapes, particularly in arid and semi-arid areas.

Ancillary