Ecological roles and conservation challenges of social, burrowing, herbivorous mammals in the world's grasslands

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Abstract

The world's grassland ecosystems are shaped in part by a key functional group of social, burrowing, herbivorous mammals. Through herbivory and ecosystem engineering they create distinctive and important habitats for many other species, thereby increasing biodiversity and habitat heterogeneity across the landscape. They also help maintain grassland presence and serve as important prey for many predators. However, these burrowing mammals are facing myriad threats, which have caused marked decreases in populations of the best-studied species, as well as cascading declines in dependent species and in grassland habitat. To prevent or mitigate such losses, we recommend that grasslands be managed to promote the compatibility of burrowing mammals with human activities. Here, we highlight the important and often overlooked ecological roles of these burrowing mammals, the threats they face, and future management efforts needed to enhance their populations and grassland ecosystems.

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