Invertebrate community response to fire and rodent activity in the Mojave and Great Basin Deserts.
Recent increases in the frequency and size of desert wildfires bring into question the impacts of fire on desert invertebrate communities. Furthermore, consumer communities can strongly impact invertebrates through predation and top-down effects on plant community assembly. We experimentally applied burn and rodent exclusion treatments in a full factorial design at sites in both the Mojave and Great Basin deserts to examine the impact that fire and rodent consumers have on invertebrate communities. Pitfall traps were used to survey invertebrates from April through September 2016 to determine changes in abundance, richness, and diversity of invertebrate communities in response to fire and rodent treatments. Generally speaking, rodent exclusion had very little effect on invertebrate abundance or ant abundance, richness or diversity. The one exception was ant abundance, which was higher in rodent access plots than in rodent exclusion plots in June 2016, but only at the Great Basin site. Fire had little effect on the abundances of invertebrate groups at either desert site, with the exception of a negative effect on flying-forager abundance at our Great Basin site. However, fire reduced ant species richness and Shannon's diversity at both desert sites. Fire did appear to indirectly affect ant community composition by altering plant community composition. Structural equation models suggest that fire increased invasive plant cover, which negatively impacted ant species richness and Shannon's diversity, a pattern that was consistent at both desert sites. These results suggest that invertebrate communities demonstrate some resilience to fire and invasions but increasing fire and spread of invasive due to invasive grass fire cycles may put increasing pressure on the stability of invertebrate communities.