Roadsides make great habitats for rodents

December 15th, 2007 - 4:20 pm ICT by admin  

Washington, December 15 (ANI): If you consider roadsides to be useless for habitats, you better think again. The reason: Indiana State University researchers have discovered that roadsides serve as great habitats for rodents.

Dale Sparks, an associate professor in the Department of Ecology and Organismal Biology, has now constituted a team with his students to evaluate the quality of Interstate 70 as a small mammal habitat from the Indiana state line to Marshall, Illinois.

The research team has even approached the Illinois Department of Transportation for the purpose.

Biologists have often considered roadways as useless or worse for wildlife. The traditional view is that these areas are too badly damaged to serve as effective habitat. However, any birdwatcher and many bored drivers know that hawks spend a lot of time sitting on the roadside staring at the ditches, medians and highway triangles, so there must be something out there, Sparks said.

He revealed that previous studies in Kansas had shown that highway triangles had a different mammal community than the surrounding landscapes. He even said that a student in northwest Indiana set up traps in a few triangles and caught deer mice, which is considered to be extinct in the Chicago area.

All those scattered reports convinced me that we should take a closer look at highways as habitat for small animals, Sparks said about obtaining support from the Indiana Academy of Science.

Everything in the preliminary data says medians are great habitats, he said.

White-footed mice, deer mice, and voles are some of the categories of rodents that the researchers have found on the roadsides and in the triangles.

In the medians, they have found white-footed mice, deer mice and shrews, including one type of shrew that is on the Indiana watch list. However, the same shrew is not on the Illinois watch list where the crew is working.

Certainly from the preliminary data, its a denser, more diverse community in the median than the triangles and ditches, Spark said.

Senior biology major Gabriella Gonzalez-Olimon from Baja California, Mexico, hailed the project.

Before doing this, I didnt even imagine what could be on the roadsides. Letting the people know whats there is fun for me. Its not as simple as it looks out there, she said.

You learn a lot more things by doing it than by listening to a teacher. You really have to apply everything you know, she added.

With a view to estimating populations, the researchers trap the small mammals before marking and releasing them. They also set out feeding the animals trays of seeds mixed with sand for the purpose.

Mice that have no fear of predation can spend all night digging up each seed. Scared mice, conversely, eat very little of the seed and soon leave. We can get an estimate of the habitat quality by seeing how much seed the mice leave behind, Sparks said. (ANI)

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