Positive interactions between shrubs and animals are frequent in desert ecosystems. Shrub canopies can provide refuge to some animal species from predators and shelter from stressful environmental conditions by ameliorating high temperatures through lowering the amplitude of variation. Consequently, there have been many contrasts of shrub versus open effects; however, we extend this approach further by testing these effects on a gradient of shrub densities in the Carrizo National Monument, California. We tested the hypothesis that shrub density is a landscape-level predictor of vertebrate community composition and structure. We used camera traps, transects, and focal observations to estimate animal density and composition, alongside the deployment of temperature sensors. Plots were established within shrub patches ranging from 0 to 12 shrubs per 10m radius. Plots with relatively higher shrub densities had increased the abundance and richness of vertebrate animal species. Temperature and residual dry matter were also important mediators of animal density and richness. Shrub cover was also an important driver of animal communities but we propose that shrub density is a more rapid proxy for vegetation effects in deserts relevant to wildlife conservationists, and managers.