Great Basin Naturalist


Bushy-tailed woodrats (Neotoma cinera) collect vegetation and store it in middens. We asked to what extent plant species collected by woodrats reflect the array of species growing in the habitat. Species composition of plant clippings at 20 bushy-tailed woodrat middens in central Colorado were compared to vegetation growing within 30 m of the dens. Amount of overlap between midden and habitat species was low (28–49%) when all taxa were included; however, if only woody taxa were considered, overlap was 71–89%. Sorensen's Index of Similarity exhibited a like pattern; the index increased markedly if only woody taxa were included. Only one plant species not found within 30 m of a den occurred in significant amounts of the middens. Bushy-tailed woodrats collected a wide array of species but were more selective the greater the habitat plant diversity. Results of this and other studies indicate the concordance between midden contents and habitat vegetation decreases with increasing habitat plant diversity. Ancient woodrat middens are nonetheless useful to paleontologists seeking to reconstruct past vegetation associations in woody vegetation is well represented in middens.