Megafauna play important roles in the biosphere, yet little is known about how they shape dryland ecosystems. We report on an overlooked form of ecosystem engineering by donkeys and horses. In the deserts of North America, digging of ≤2-meter wells to groundwater by feral equids increased the density of water features, reduced distances between waters, and, at times, provided the only water present. Vertebrate richness and activity were higher at equid wells than at adjacent dry sites, and, by mimicking flood disturbance, equid wells became nurseries for riparian trees. Our results suggest that equids, even those that are introduced or feral, are able to buffer water availability, which may increase resilience to ongoing human-caused aridification.
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