Plant carbon isotopes were used to track assimilation of riparian resources by small mammals. Voles and shrews derived significant portions of their carbon from riparian vegetation. Deer and harvest mice were abundant in riparian habitat but assimilated little riparian vegetation indicating that the riparian corridor provided resources other than food. This is first use of stable carbon isotopes to trace riparian resources into a vertebrate community. Conifer encroachment in sagebrush ecosystems negatively affects many wildlife populations. Conifer removal is recommended across millions of hectares in the Great Basin. However the effects of conifer encroachment and conifer removal are unknown for most wildlife species. We show that the consequences of conifer encroachment, a press impact, far outweigh the pulse impact of sagebrush restoration, on small mammal diversity. Lack of demographic data limit the development of effective management, conservation and recovery goals for rattlesnakes. We used a long-term dataset and capture mark recapture models to quantify demography of four rattlesnake populations. Mean population growth indicated an overall stable population across the study, with two of the four sites declining. Survival overwhelmingly contributed to population growth relative to recruitment. No small mammals drank stream water even during periods of environmentally high water stress and high aridity, extension of the linear regression equation for small mammal body water towards the meteoric waterline, captures stream water, the weighted mean average for regional meteoric waters. Similar regression of fossilized small mammal tissues would also capture local meteoric waters. Even in arid regions, small mammal fossils are a suitable proxy for climate reconstructions. In the Great Basin, snowmelt overwhelmingly contributes to local precipitation, plant production, and stream flows. Snowmelt supports riparian and upland plants, and small mammals. Rattlesnakes prey primarily on small mammals, indirectly depending on snow melt for survival and reproduction. Climate models and rattlesnake emergence strongly indicate an earlier onset of spring and reduced ratio of snow to rain. Declining snowpack will have major impacts on biodiversity and management such as riparian vegetation, native plant restoration, trophic interactions, and ecological goods and services.



College and Department

Life Sciences; Biology



Date Submitted


Document Type





stable isotopes, δ13C, δD, δ18O, Crotalus lutosus, Snake Range, Great Basin National Park



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Biology Commons