Response of the meadow vole, Microtus pennsylvanicus, to prescribed burning in a tallgrass prairie
Koehring, Madonna M.
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This study was initiated with attention to the following questions: 1) What are the direct effects of fire on the resident populations of the meadow vole, Microtus pennsylvanicus inhabiting a tallgrass prairie restoration? 2) What aspects of the plant and surrounding vole communities may be important in the recolonization of burned habitat by pennsylvanicus? and 3) What characterizes recolonizing M^_ pennsylvanicus individuals as compared to animals persisting in the unburned areas? Population density as well as age structure, trappability, survival rate, sex ratio, male body weight and home range size were monitored by monthly/bimonthly trapping from April 1980 until October 1981 on a 1.6 ha grid which was divided into 0.72 ha treatment and control plots. When applicable, demographic characteristics were analysed using non-parametric tests due to differences in sample sizes. Plant community characteristics, above-ground biomass and percent cover were also observed using clip quadrats and point-contact sampling. Thirty samples were removed from each area at regular intervals from March to October. The results indicated that fire did not appear to harm the voles directly. Small mammal remains were not found after the burn and several voles were later caught on the control plot. Other species of small mammals returned to the burn plot within two weeks of the fire. Microtus pennsylvanicus entered the burn plot well before minimal levels of cover became established. Population density in the control plot had been increasing steadily and it appeared the voles colonized the burn plot in response to increased population density. Individuals colonizing the burn plot could be characterized as predominantly young adult males and non-reproducing females. Thus, fire seems to have only a transitory effect on vole populations, and recolonization patterns reflect demographic events as well as vegetation characteristics.