Water is a vital resource for species inhabiting arid and semi-arid regions and can shape the biotic communities that we observe. Because water is considered a limiting resource for many species in desert environments, there is the potential for competitive interactions between species to occur at or around water sources. For this dissertation I tested hypotheses related to resource competition among different species of wildlife in the Great Basin and Mojave Deserts of western Utah. Chapter one evaluated the influence of feral horses (Equus caballus) on patterns of water use by communities of native birds and mammals. Chapter two determined if feral horses competed with pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) and mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) for access to water. In chapters one and two, we found evidence that horses compete with native wildlife for water. In chapter one, horses were associated with decreased richness and diversity of native species at water sources. Native species also had fewer visits and spent less time at water sources frequented by horses. In chapter two, we found that pronghorn and mule deer used water sources less often where horse activity was high. There were also significant differences in temporal activity for pronghorn, but not mule deer, at horse-occupied sites versus sites where horses were absent or uncommon. Our results indicated that horses spatially and temporally displaced other species at water sources providing evidence of a negative influence on how communities of native wildlife access a limited resource in an arid environment. Chapter three assessed whether dominant carnivores (coyote (Canis latrans) and bobcat (Lynx rufus)) negatively influenced the spatial use of water sources by the subordinate kit fox (Vulpes macrotis). Our results did not reveal strong negative associations between kit fox visits to water sources and visits by dominant carnivores; in fact, dominant carnivores contributed very little to the use of water by kit foxes. Instead, kit fox visits were more closely associated with habitat features at water sources. Our findings indicate that dominant carnivores are not the primary driver of use of water sources by subordinate carnivores. Chapter four evaluated whether a simulated loss of water due to climate change/increased human use would differentially affect desert bats based on flight morphology and maneuverability. When we experimentally reduced surface area of water sources, larger, less-maneuverable bats experienced a 69% decrease in drinking success and increased competition with smaller, maneuverable bats. Anticipated reductions in the sizes of water sources due to climate change may lead to species with less maneuverability being unable to access water efficiently and facing increased competition from more agile bats.



College and Department

Life Sciences; Plant and Wildlife Sciences



Date Submitted


Document Type





bats, carnivores, competition, horses, maneuverability, mule deer, kit fox, pronghorn, spatial partitioning, temporal partitioning, ungulates, water development, water source