Keystone Indicator: A Tool for Semidesert Grassland Conservation

Project Number: 
Project Duration: 
30 months
May 1, 2005 to October 31, 2007
Institution of Principle Investigator while on this project: 
New Mexico State University

Investigators (most current known information)

Adjunct Assistant Professor and Graduate Faculty Member, Department of Fishery and Wildlife Science, New Mexico State University, PO Box 30003, Campus Box 4901, Las Cruces NM 88003-0003
TEL: +1-575-646-3395, FAX: +1-575-646-1281, Email:
Professor, Institute for Nature Conservation Research, Tel Aviv University, Ramat Aviv 69978, ISRAEL
TEL: +972-3-640-7689, FAX: +972-3-640-7304, Email:
Assistant Professor, Department of Fishery & Wildlife Sciences, New Mexico State University, Box 30003, MSC 4901, Las Cruces NM 88003-8003
TEL: +1-575-646-3394, FAX: +1-575-646-1281, Email:

Proposal Abstract

Strategies are needed to direct conservation efforts for Chihuahuan semiarid grasslands. The investigators present a novel approach that will meet this need using an indicator and keystone species, the banner-tailed kangaroo rat (Dipodomys spectabilis). They used an information theoretic approach to determine a habitat suitability function for banner-tailed kangaroo rats in a 37,697 sq. km portion of southwest New Mexico. They used 114 presence and 185 absence locations in a multiple logistic regression with seven habitat data layers. The best approximating model was used to derive a habitat suitability map for banner-tailed kangaroo rats. The minimum habitat suitability threshold that maximized available patches and population configuration was determined to be a threshold value of 0.80. Given this model of habitat suitability, the investigators were able to examine the sensitivity of population parameter estimates. From the sensitivity analysis it was concluded that maximum growth rate estimation was the most significant parameter affecting the population's 50-year projection. This was confirmed by comparison of terminal extinction probabilities for the risk curves associated with maximum growth rate variation in habitat suitability threshold 0.80. In addition, the investigators used patch conservation criteria that maximized discrete habitat patches that were locally occupied for the whole 50-year simulation and resulted in a local abundance greater that 100,000 individuals. This allowed the investigators to prioritize six regions within the study area to direct conservation efforts in order to promote the banner-tailed kangaroo rat as well as conserve healthy patches of Chihuahuan semiarid grassland.



2008. Habitat suitability model for a semi-desert grassland indicator: the banner-tailed kangaroo rat. Expected Journal: Landscape Ecology, Conservation Biology, Animal Conservation.

2008. Ecological factors influencing the survival of banner-tailed kangaroo rats across a broad geographic range. Expected Journal: Ecology, Journal of Wildlife Management

2008. Regional population dynamics and population viability of the banner-tailed kangaroo rat. Expected Journal: Ecological Applications, Conservation Biology.

2008. The phylogeography of the banner-tailed kangaroo rat. Expected Journal: Molecular Ecology

2008. Changes in distribution of vegetation types since 1880 in New Mexico. Expected Journal: Journal of Arid Environments


2008. Mesilla Valley Audubon Society (fall).

2009. AZ/NM Joint Annual Fish and Wildlife Meeting (spring).

2009. American Society of Mammalogists (summer).


Moses, M. 2008. Using Vital Rate Variation to Assess Habitat Suitability of Banner-tailed Kangaroo Rats: Implication for Conservation of Chihuahuan Semi-Arid Grasslands. Master of Science Thesis. New Mexico State University, Las Cruces NM.


Support for this project came from the USDA Cooperative Research, Education, and Extension Service