Rodents Help Seed the RangeBy
Kangaroo rats help an important western native plant more than researchers
have realized. The small rodents stash thousands of Indian ricegrass seeds
underground on late spring or summer nights, but often don't return for the
tasty meal. Many of these overlooked seeds sprout the following spring to yield
hardy plants that provide nutritious forage for cattle and wildlife.
Federal researchers now give kangaroo rats and their relatives, such as
pocket mice, more than 90 percent of the credit for Indian ricegrass seedlings
that sprout and take hold on the desert ranges of California, Utah and Nevada.
The figure comes from a recent 4-year-study of wildlife that feed on seeds of
key rangeland plants.
Animal ecologist William S. Longland of the
Agricultural Research Service led the
investigation. He's at ARS' Ecology
of Temperate Desert Rangelands Laboratory in Reno, Nev.
A kangaroo rat gathers hundreds of seeds at a time in its fur-lined cheek
pouches, then buries them in shallow hiding places or caches. The "planting
depth" is ideal for Indian ricegrass, and the caches also protect the seeds
from ants and other would-be poachers, including other rodents.
While rooting for the kangaroo rat in this case, Longland and colleagues
also devise strategies to outwit it and other wildlife that eat seeds planted by
land management agencies or ranchers. Earlier experiments led by Reno laboratory
director James A. Young and Longland showed that planting fewer seeds--but
deeper and farther apart than traditional rangeland seeding operations--seems to
deter rodents by making them work too hard for their meal.
An article in the January issue of ARS' Agricultural Research
magazine tells more. The article is also on the World Wide Web at:
Scientific contact: William S. Longland, USDA-ARS
Ecology of Temperate Desert
Rangelands Laboratory, 920 Valley Rd., Reno, NV 89512, phone (702) 784-6057,
fax (702) 784-1712, firstname.lastname@example.org.