Abstract

Burrowing organisms assist in shaping earth surfaces and are simultaneously affected by the environment they inhabit; however, a conceptual framework is not yet available to describe this feedback. We introduce a model that connects the population density of soil-burrowing animals to sediment transport via energy. The model, combined with available data from California hillslopes where soil erosion is driven by pocket gophers (Thomomys bottae), suggests that a gopher annually expends ∼9 kJ of energy, or ∼1% of reported burrowing energy expenditure, in generating sediment transport. The model is used to evaluate the case that gophers prefer to populate thicker soils. The results suggest that this behavior may drastically dampen the spatial and temporal variations of soil thickness and gopher populations, implying that burrowing organisms may create landscapes distinct from those affected by abiotic processes.

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