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Data from: Small-mammal isotope ecology tracks climate and vegetation gradients across western North America

Cite this dataset

Smiley, Tara M.; Cotton, Jennifer M.; Badgley, Catherine; Cerling, Thure E. (2015). Data from: Small-mammal isotope ecology tracks climate and vegetation gradients across western North America [Dataset]. Dryad.


Stable carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen and oxygen isotopes have been used to infer aspects of species ecology and environment in both modern ecosystems and the fossil record. Compared to large mammals, stable isotopic studies of small-mammal ecology are limited; however, high species and ecological diversity within small mammals presents several advantages for quantifying resource use and organism–environment interactions using stable isotopes over various spatial and temporal scales. We analyzed the isotopic composition of hair from two heteromyid rodent species, Dipodomys ordii and Perognathus parvus, from localities across western North America in order to characterize dietary variation in relation to vegetation and climatic gradients. Significant correlations between the carbon isotopic composition (δ13C) of these species and several climatic variables imply that seasonal temperature and precipitation control the composition and distribution of dietary resources (grass seeds). Our results also suggest a moisture influence on the nitrogen isotopic composition (δ15N) of heteromyid diets. Population- and species-level variation in δ13C and δ15N values record fine-scale habitat heterogeneity and significant differences in resource use between species. Using classification and regression-tree techniques, we modeled the geographic variation in heteromyid δ13Cdiet values based on 10 climatic variables and generated an isotope landscape model (‘isoscape’). The isoscape predictions for δ13Cdiet differ from expectations based on observed C4 distributions and instead indicate that D. ordii and P. parvus record seasonally abundant grass resources, with additional model deviations potentially attributed to geographic variation in dietary selection. The oxygen and hydrogen isotopic composition of D. ordii is enriched relative to local meteoric water and suggests that individuals rely on highly evaporated water sources, such as seed moisture. Based on the climatic influences on vegetation and diet documented in this study, the isotopic composition of small mammals has high potential for recording ecological responses to environmental changes over short and long time scales.

Usage notes


Western North America