The prairie vole (Microtus ochrogaster) represents the ground-burrowing members of the new world voles. This vole is found in the north and central plains of the United States and in southern Canada, usually in dry places such as prairies and along fencerows and railroads. Its range has expanded eastward to West Virginia as a result of clear-cutting of forests (Jones et al., 1983). Voles are active by day or night (Johnson and Johnson, 1982). Although prairie and meadow voles usually occupy different habitats, where they coexist their population densities tend to be negatively correlated (Klatt, 1985; Krebs, 1977).
The prairie vole measures from 8.9 to 13 cm in length and has a 3.0- to 4.1-cm tail (Burt and Grossenheider, 1980). After reaching sexual maturity, voles continue to grow for several months (Johnson and Johnson, 1982). Adults weigh from 30 to 45 g (see table). Prairie voles maintain a relatively constant proportion of their body weight as fat (15 to 16 percent on a dry-weight basis) throughout the year (Fleharty et al., 1973).
The prairie vole inhabits a wide variety of prairie plant communities and moisture regimes, including riparian, short-grass, or tall-grass communities (Kaufman and Fleharty, 1974). Prairie voles prefer areas of dense vegetation, such as grass, alfalfa, or clover (Carroll and Getz, 1976); their presence in a habitat depends on suitable cover for runways (Kaufman and Fleharty, 1974). They will tolerate sparser plant cover than the meadow vole because the prairie vole usually nests in burrows at least 50 mm underground or in grass nests under logs or boards (Klatt and Getz, 1987).
Meadow voles, as other voles, are largely herbivorous, consuming primarily green succulent vegetation but also roots, bark, seeds, fungi, arthropods, and animal matter (Johnson and Johnson, 1982; Lomolino, 1984; Stalling, 1990). Voles have masticatory and digestive systems that allow them to digest fibrous grasses such as cereals (Johnson and Johnson, 1982). Diet varies by season and habitat according to plant availability, although meadow and other voles show a preference for young, tender vegetation (Johnson and Johnson, 1982; Martin, 1956). Voles can damage pastures, grasslands, crops such as hay and grain, and fruit trees (by eating bark and roots) (Johnson and Johnson, 1982).
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