An experimental test of the multi-scalar impacts of digging mammal reintroductions on invertebrate burrows Academic Article uri icon


  • The decline of ecosystem engineers alters ecosystems, with impacts cascading through to other organisms. Through engineering and predation, digging mammals may affect burrowing invertebrate assemblages, leading to changes in invertebrate-driven soil engineering. Using a mammal reintroduction sanctuary in southern Australia, we tested how digging mammals alter invertebrate burrows (density and size of burrow entrances) and whether these impacts were scale-dependent. We examined the micro-site (pit-scale) effects of mammal foraging pits on invertebrate burrowing activity by comparing natural and artificial pits and bare-ground, and artificial pits of different dimensions within different microhabitat types. To test how mammals affected invertebrate burrows and soil physical and chemical properties at larger scales, we used an exclusion experiment (plot-scale) and surveys inside and outside a reintroduction reserve (landscape scale). Invertebrate burrows were more numerous in mammal pits than bare-ground and artificial pits, and larger in mammal pits than bare-ground. The density and size of invertebrate burrows depended on pit morphology, with burrow density greatest in narrow bilby pits and large burrows favoured by bettong pits. However, the influence of foraging pits on invertebrate burrows was scale-dependent: changes in invertebrate burrows were not detected at the plot or landscape scale. Only 4.5% of land surface area was occupied by pits and this might be insufficient to alter burrow or soil properties detectably in un-stratified surveys at larger scales. Digging mammals altered the small-scale (but not large-scale) distribution of invertebrate burrows, suggesting that their reintroduction provides an avenue through which to restore the heterogeneity of other organisms and functions in ecosystems.

publication date

  • 2019