Cascading ecological effects from local extirpation of an ecosystem engineer in the arava desert

Uri Shanas*, Yoni Gavish, Mai Bernheim, Shacham Mittler, Yael Olek, Alon Tal

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The extinction of a single species from a local community may carry little cost in terms of species diversity, yet its loss eliminates its biotic and abiotic interactions. We describe such a scenario in the Arava desert, where different cultural and law enforcement practices exclude Dorcas gazelles (Gazella dorcas (Linnaeus, 1758)) from the Jordanian side of the border while protecting their populations on the Israeli side. We found that gazelles break the soil crust, formed in desert systems after annual flooding, thereby creating patches of loose and cooler sand that are used by pit-building antlions (Neuroptera: Myrmeleontidae). When we artificially broke the soil crust on both sides of the border, we found a significant increase in antlion density in these patches, but only on the Israeli side. On the Jordanian side, where no gazelles have been observed since the early 1980s, no antlions colonized either control or manipulated plots. Additional choice/no-choice feeding experiments, in which we offered antlions to lizards and birds, revealed that the effect of humans on gazelles cascades farther, as antlions serve as a palatable food source for both groups. Thus, the human-mediated loss of nontrophic interactions between gazelles and antlions cascades to the loss of trophic interactions between antlions and their predators.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)466-472
Number of pages7
JournalCanadian Journal of Zoology
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2018


  • Antlion
  • Desert
  • Dorcas gazelle
  • Ecological engineer
  • Food web
  • Gazella dorcas
  • Myrmeleontidae
  • Neuroptera


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