Master's Theses



Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Although the loss of prairie is substantial across the extent of its historic range, large portions of native rangeland still remain throughout Nebraska. It is critical that resource managers and private landowners manage rangelands in a manner that will enhance ecosystem integrity by using techniques that provide disturbance regimes. Heterogeneity based management, such as patch-burn grazing and rest-rotation grazing, can be used as a conservation tool to increase biodiversity within management units and at a landscape level. Heterogeneity-based management has received much attention in the literature within the past decade, but there has been little focus on how these management systems influence small mammal communities. I trapped small mammals and surveyed vegetation structure among rangelands during 2009 and 2010 at the Platte River Whooping Crane Maintenance Trust in the Central Platte River Valley, Nebraska to determine the influence of structural heterogeneity on small mammals. Vertical height, litter depth, bare ground, and standing dead vegetation were different among burn units during both years. My data indicated no difference in grasses, forbs, or litter cover among burn units for either year. I used the significant variables in a direct gradient analysis to identify which variables were critical in determining small mammal species presence. The species identified with vegetation variables for 2009 but not 2010 suggested there were other variables not considered in my study. Species diversity measurements indicated the recently disturbed burn units had the lowest small mammal diversity and the undisturbed burn units had the greatest diversity. Community similarity was highest among similar burn units, which indicated that small mammal communities were similar among similar burn units during 2009 and 2010. Resource managers should recognize that alternative grazing systems that create a mosaic of vegetation structure can provide evolutionary processes necessary for prairie ecosystem function. Small mammals play a crucial role in grassland ecosystems and by using heterogeneity-based management, small mammal diversity increased which can lead to a healthier ecosystem.


Dr. Elmer J. Finck

Date of Award

Spring 2012

Document Type



© 2012 Justin D. Anderson


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