Populations of a common burrowing rodent, Microtus californicus (the California vole), thrive in ungrazed or lightly grazed grasslands in coastal California. Two sites ungrazed by livestock, one dominated by native perennial grasses and another dominated by invasive annuals, were evaluated over 2 consecutive years for the relationship between plant species richness and location of M. californicus burrow entrances (burrows). Plant species and burrows were sampled as present or absent in contiguous 1-m2 quadrats on a 100-m2 grid. Quadrats with burrows averaged significantly more plant species than quadrats without them (11.3 vs. 9.9 species, P < 0.001). Burrows found in 1996 were not correlated with species richness in 1995, suggesting that voles affect richness rather than seek it out. Vole burrow locations showed significant clumping on the annual site and trended toward clumping on the perennial site in both 1995 and 1996. Because voles seem to create a clumped pattern with their burrow entrances, the associated increase in plant species richness may have a strong effect on the overall structure of the plant community. A quantitative comparison of the 2 sites showed that the plant matrix of the perennial site contained flora of the annual site. This similarity in plant species composition may allow for similar treatment of our 2 types of sites and potentially other California grasslands. Undetected increases in vole populations with livestock grazing reduction may account for the erratic results from grasslands management research and the inconsistent success of derived management practices.
Fehmi, Jeffrey S. and Bartolome, James W.
"Species richness and California voles in an annual and a perennial grassland,"
Western North American Naturalist: Vol. 62
, Article 8.
Available at: http://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/wnan/vol62/iss1/8