Plateau zokor (Myospalax fontanierii) is a native subterranean rodent in alpine rangeland on Qinghai-Tibet Plateau (QTP) in China, and its foraging, digging, and mounds building cause the unique disturbance pattern to alpine rangeland ecosystem. Over the past decades, the zokors have been regarded as major pests who result in the degradation of the rangeland ecosystem in the QTP and have been simply eliminated by rodenticides or traps. Understanding the function of zokors and evaluating the zokors' impacts on alpine rangeland systems should be the solid scientific basis for zokor control. In this study, we considered the average nearest neighbor indices of zokor mounds to represent the disturbance intensity of zokor to alpine rangeland and surveyed the plant species richness, diversity indices, biomass, and soil physicochemical properties in intermound areas under different zokor disturbance intensities in alpine rangeland in Tianzhu Tibet Autonomous County, located in eastern QTP. Our results indicated that 1) the plant species diversity indices were positively correlated with zokor disturbance intensity and aboveground and belowground biomasses were not significantly different under the different disturbance intensities; 2) the importance value of the forb functional group increased as the disturbance intensities increased, and the sedge functional group showed the opposite trend. The proportions of aboveground and belowground biomasses of forbs increased as the disturbance level increased; 3) there were no changes in the dominant plant species among the different disturbance intensities, but new plant species (Polygonum viviparum and Equisetum arvense) occurred in the plots with high disturbance intensities; 4) a significant positive correlation was observed between soil moisture in the 0-20 cm layer and disturbance intensity, while soil temperature exhibited a significantly negative relationship with the disturbance intensity; however, no differences in soil chemical properties were observed; and 5) redundancy analysis identified that mound building changed soil physical properties, especially soil moisture, in intermound areas, which influenced the plant community structure. In conclusion, the plateau zokor in our study area increased plant species diversity and did not decrease plant biomass, which is beneficial for alpine rangeland systems. We suggest that rangeland managers should consider the multiple functions of zokors to an alpine rangeland ecosystem instead of simply eliminating them.
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Vol. 73 • No. 4