We examined the influence of the plains vizcacha (Lagostomus maximus) on the vegetation structure and the characteristics of soil in a wet grassland area of Argentina. This rodent lives in social groups that share a communal burrow system that is occupied for several generations. The areas in which the vizcacha live and feed are strongly affected by grazing, trampling, and soil removal, exhibiting extensive biopedturbation. To evaluate these effects, we carried out a vegetation survey, along areas extending outward from active vizcacheras, analyzing abundance, plant diversity, vegetation cover, and biomass. We also established soil properties, analyzing physical and chemical variables from the center of the colonies to the grassland matrix. Our results show that vizcachas have indeed affected vegetation, diminishing plant cover and grass biomass in their grazing areas. Vegetation in both areas without animal activity and those of intense grazing was dominated by a few characteristic species. We verified the hypothesis of greatest diversity in areas of moderate disturbance. Perturbed areas had higher cation exchange capacity and electric conductivity and higher clay and sodium contents than the other areas. The rodents' activity introduces a recurrent disturbance factor to the landscape of this region, the outcome of which is the alteration of both the composition and structure of the botanical communities, and some soil properties, scaled in gradients of decreasing effect from the center of a colony to the periphery.
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Vol. 58 • No. 1