To support population growth in Las Vegas, Nevada, large scale increases in groundwater pumping are planned across the state. This pumping could affect riparian areas in Great Basin National Park by lowering groundwater levels, reducing stream flows, and xerifying riparian vegetation. Great Basin National Park (GBNP) is mandated to manage its resources unimpaired for future generations. Loss of biodiversity is unacceptable under this mandate. If groundwater levels are reduced beyond a threshold, aquatic and riparian diversity would be lost, but the effects on small mammal communities are less clear. To provide baseline information and to consider the effects of groundwater withdrawal a priori, we sampled and compared small mammal communities in two watersheds susceptible to groundwater withdrawal and one non-susceptible watershed. We also used to stable isotopes of nitrogen, carbon, deuterium and oxygen to characterize small mammal communities. Evenness was higher in susceptible watersheds, which were distinct in species composition. Riparian and upland habitats in susceptible watersheds supported complementary small mammal communities, while communities in the non-susceptible watershed were more homogenous. Susceptible watersheds are located at the lowest elevations of GBNP where habitat heterogeneity due to the contrast between mesic riparian and xeric upland habitats is important in maintaining small mammal diversity. Partitioning was primarily seen in nitrogen and carbon isotopes which reflect feeding ecology (trophic level and primary production source), but was also seen in oxygen isotopes. Major differences in nitrogen and carbon isotopes were between taxonomic groups, while similarity was highest within these groups. Shrews and ermine were highest in nitrogen reflecting their high trophic positions. Harvest and piñon mice were intermediate in nitrogen suggesting omnivory, while chipmunks, voles, woodrats and pocket mice were apparently herbivorous. Carbon ratios were consistent with C3 based diets but were relatively enriched in Sigmodontinae species. Small mammal deuterium was similar to stream water suggesting that stream water is an important water source of water to small mammals. Oxygen enrichment relative to stream water and precipitation suggested that small mammals are sensitive to body water evaporation. Contrary to a previous study, oxygen isotopes were inversely related to water use efficiency. Increases in the rate of groundwater pumping adjacent to Great Basin National Park could lower water tables, reduce stream flows, and xerify riparian vegetation. We suggest that groundwater levels, streams flow and riparian vegetation, in addition to small mammal species composition will be important response variables in monitoring the effects of groundwater withdrawal. If predictions of groundwater withdrawal are realized, groundwater levels, stream flows, vegetation, microclimate, and invertebrates riparian dependent as well as small mammals will be negatively affected resulting in a decrease in diversity and loss of riparian species from affected areas.



College and Department

Life Sciences; Biology



Date Submitted


Document Type





biodiversity, species composition, riparian, evenness, richness, abundance, nitrogen, carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, deuterium, riparian

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Biology Commons