Pinyon-juniper (PJ) woodlands have drastically changed over the last century with juniper encroaching into adjacent habitats and pinyon experiencing large-scale mortality events from drought. Changes in climate and forest composition may pose challenges for animal communities found in PJ woodlands, especially if animals specialize on tree species sensitive to drought. Here we test habitat specialization of ground-dwelling arthropod (GDA) communities underneath pinyon and juniper trees. We also investigate the role of climate and productivity gradients in structuring GDAs within PJ woodlands using two elevational gradients. We sampled 12,365 individuals comprising 115 taxa over two years. We found no evidence that GDAs differ under pinyon or juniper trees, save for a single species of beetle which preferred junipers. Climate and productivity, however, were strongly associated with GDA communities and appeared to drive differences between sites. Precipitation was strongly associated with arthropod richness, while differences in GDA composition were associated with environmental variables (precipitation, temperature, vapor pressure, and normalized difference vegetation index). These relationships varied among different arthropod taxa (e.g. ants and beetles) and community metrics (e.g. richness, abundance, and composition), with individual taxa also responding differently. Overall, our results suggest that GDAs are not dependent on tree type, but are strongly linked to primary productivity and climate, especially precipitation in PJ woodlands. This implies GDAs in PJ woodlands are more susceptible to changes in climate, especially at lower elevations where it is hot and dry, than changes in dominant vegetation. We discuss management implications and compare our findings to GDA relationships with vegetation in other systems.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)