06 May 2021

06 May 2021

Review status: a revised version of this preprint is currently under review for the journal BG.

Reviews and Syntheses: Composition and Characteristics of Burrowing Animals along a Climate and Ecological Gradient, Chile

Kirstin Übernickel1, Jaime Pizarro-Araya2, Susila Bhagavathula1, Leandro Paulino3, and Todd A. Ehlers1 Kirstin Übernickel et al.
  • 1Department of Geosciences, University of Tübingen, 72076 Tübingen, Germany
  • 2Laboratorio de Entomología Ecológica, Departamento de Biología, Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad de La Serena, La Serena, Chile
  • 3Departamento de Suelos y Recursos Naturales, Facultad de Agronomía, Universidad de Concepción, Chillán, Chile

Abstract. Although the burrowing activity of some species (e.g. gophers) is well studied, a comprehensive inventory of burrowing animals in adjacent biomes is not yet known, despite the potential importance of burrowing activity on the physical and chemical evolution of Earth’s surface. In this study, we review the available information with a focus on: a) an inventory of burrowing vertebrates and invertebrates along the climate and ecological gradient in Chile; b) the dimensions and characteristics of burrows; and c) calculation of excavation rates by local species compositions. Methods used include a literature compilation (> 1000 studies) of Chilean burrowing animal species integrated with global, species-specific excavation rates. A field study augments literature findings with quantification of the zoogeomorphic effects on hillslope mass transport at the animal community level and along the arid to humid-temperate climate gradient within the Chilean Coastal Cordillera (27–38° S latitude).

The literature review indicates 45 vertebrate and 345 invertebrate burrowing species distributed across Chile in different biomes. Burrowing depths for Chilean mammals range between 3 m (e.g. for skunks, Conepatus) to 0.25 m (for rock rats, Aconaemys). For invertebrates, burrowing depths in Chile range between 1 m for scorpions to 0.3 m for spiders. In comparison, globally documented maximum burrow depths reach up to more than 6 m for vertebrates (gopher tortoises and aardvarks) and 4 m for invertebrates (ants).

Minimum excavation rates of local animal communities observed from field sites in Chile are 0.34 m3 ha−1 yr−1 for the arid site, 0.56 m3 ha−1 yr−1 for the semi-arid site, 0.93 m3 ha−1 yr−1 for the mediterranean site and 0.09 m3 ha−1 yr−1 for the humid-temperate site, with the latter likely an underestimation. The calculated minimum Chilean excavation rates are within the large range of globally observed single species rates ranging between 0.01 and 146.20 m3 ha−1 yr−1 for vertebrates and from 0.01 to 53.33 m3 ha−1 yr−1 for invertebrates. Taken together, results highlight not only the diverse and latitudinally varying number of burrowing vertebrates and invertebrates present in different biomes, but also fosters the understanding of how burrowing activity changes over a gradient and is influenced by mean annual temperature, mean annual precipitation, slope aspect and latitudinal related incoming solar energy.

Kirstin Übernickel et al.

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on bg-2021-75', Anonymous Referee #1, 07 Jun 2021
    • AC1: 'Reply on RC1', Kirstin Übernickel, 20 Jul 2021
  • RC2: 'Comment on bg-2021-75', Simon Mudd, 22 Jun 2021
    • AC2: 'Reply on RC2', Kirstin Übernickel, 20 Jul 2021

Kirstin Übernickel et al.

Kirstin Übernickel et al.


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Short summary
Animal burrowing is important because it impacts the physical and chemical evolution of Earth’s surface. However, most studies are species specific and compilations of animal community effects are missing. We present an inventory of the currently known 390 burrowing species for all Chile along its climate gradient from the Atacama desert to Patagonia. We observed increasing amounts of excavated material from an area with dry conditions along a gradient towards more humid conditions.