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Overview

Brief Summary

Description

The Western Red-backed Vole lives in conifer forests from the Columbia River south through western Oregon to northern California. Its population densities are greatest in dense, dark forests where there is little or no understory. These Voles prefer old-growth to young forest, and upland to riparian areas. They use decaying logs for foraging, nesting, and inner-log travel routes, and they make other pathways along large, hard logs. In Oregon, these voles consume largely fungi and lichens, with some conifer seeds and insect larvae. They may play a role in disseminating fungal spores and bacteria that are important to the ecology of the forest.

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  • Original description: Merriam, C.H., 1890.  Descriptions of twenty-six new species of North American mammals, p. 26.  North American Fauna, 4:1-60.
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Distribution

occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

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National Distribution

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

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Global Range: Columbia River south through western Oregon to northwestern California (to about 100 km north of S.F. Bay); Pacific Ocean to summit of Cascade Range (Alexander and Verts 1992).

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Range Description

This species occurs in western Oregon and northwestern California, from the Columbia River south to about 100 km north of San Francisco Bay, and from the Pacific coast east to the summit of the Cascade Range.
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Geographic Range

Pacific coast of northern California and Oregon.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )

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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

Dorsally, this species is chestnut brown, mixed with black. Its color gradually lightens on sides to buff-gray on belly. It has an indistinct reddish stripe along back. The tail is bicolored and roughly 1/2 the length of the head and body.

Range mass: 15 to 40 g.

Range length: 110 to 190 mm.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry

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Size

Length: 17 cm

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Size in North America

Sexual Dimorphism: None

Length:
Range: 121-165 mm

Weight:
Range: 15-40 g
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Ecology

Habitat

Comments: Coniferous and mixed forests (see Alexander and Verts 1992 for details). Apparently prefers dense forests with little ground cover, but with large-diameter rotten logs; generally in cool moist microhabitats in deep forest. Decayed logs appear to be a critical component of suitable habitat; uses logs for cover (Tallmon and Mills 1994). Riparian areas are reported to be most favorable for reproduction, but uplands may have higher populations (see Alexander and Verts 1992). Sometimes in manzanita brushlands in California. Logged and burned areas do not provide suitable habitat (may be temporarily inhabited) (Alexander and Verts 1992). Nests underground in burrows (made by other animals), under logs, or under old leaves.

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Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
Western red-backed voles are found primarily in conifer forests, including lodgepole pine, Douglas fir, western hemlock, Sitka spruce, western red cedar, silver fir, grand fir, white fir, and ponderosa pine. They also occur in mixed forests, which include big-leaf maple and rhododendron. They apparently prefer dense forests with little ground cover, but with large-diameter rotten logs; generally in cool moist microhabitats in deep forest.

Decayed logs appear to be a critical component of suitable habitat, they use logs for cover (Tallmon and Mills 1994). Riparian areas are reported to be most favourable for reproduction, but uplands may have higher populations (see Alexander and Verts 1992). Sometimes found in manzanita brushlands in California. Logged and burned areas do not provide suitable habitat and may be temporarily inhabited (Alexander and Verts 1992). They nest underground in burrows (made by other animals), under logs, or under old leaves. In Oregon, home range size of four radio collared individuals was 606-3,418sqm (Tallmon and Mills 1994).

West of Cascade Range the voles breed throughout the year; populations in Cascade Range breed February-November (females pregnant or lactating mainly April-September). Gestation lasts 17-21 days. Litter size averages two to three (Maser et al. 1981, Alexander and Verts 1992). Individual females produce several litters per year. Western red-backed voles are active throughout the year. West of Cascade range, voles are active mostly at night; in the mountains, voles are active throughout the 24-hour cycle (Maser et al. 1981).

Their diet is dominated by fungal sporocarps (especially of hypogeous fungi) and lichens. Will sometimes eats green vegetation, grass, seeds, and insect larvae. May store fungi for later use. Forages mainly under cover. Predators include marten, short-tailed weasel, spotted skunk, bobcat, coyote, domestic cat and owls.

Systems
  • Terrestrial
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Myodes californicus prefers forested riparian habitats and is often found at stream edges. Abundance is positively correlated to size of logs, depth of organic soil, diameter of standing trees and snag size. Overall, old-growth, naturally degenerate forests with moist soils, abundant ground cover and litter are the ideal habitat.

Range elevation: 0 to 1900 m.

Habitat Regions: temperate

Terrestrial Biomes: forest

Other Habitat Features: riparian

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Migration

Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.

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Trophic Strategy

Comments: Diet dominated by fungal sporocarps (especially of hypogeous fungi) and lichens. Also sometimes eats green vegetation, grass, seeds, and insect larvae. May cache fungi for later use. Forages mainly under cover.

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Food Habits

Interestingly, M. californicus seems to rely heavily on fungal sprorocarps (75 to 90% of diet). These voles appear to have physiological and morphological adaptations of their digestive sytems which allow them to digest to fibrous materials of EMF (ectomycorrhizal fungi) sporocarps more efficiently than their body size would suggest. Myodes californicus is also known to eat some lichens, green vegetation (late winter), seeds, twigs, and insects (and occasionally insect larvae). Foraging is mostly terrestrial, but they occassionally climb into trees and shrubs in search of food. There is some evidence that they cache fungi for later consumption.

Animal Foods: insects

Plant Foods: leaves; seeds, grains, and nuts; lichens

Foraging Behavior: stores or caches food

Primary Diet: mycophage

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Associations

Ecosystem Roles

Ecosystem Impact: disperses seeds

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Predation

Myodes californicus are an important prey base for the forest ecosystem. They are preyed upon by martens, weasels, skunks, owls (including Spotted Owls), and other carnivorous birds and mammals.

Known Predators:

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Known predators

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Known prey organisms

Clethrionomys californicus preys on:
lichens
Insecta

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
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General Ecology

In Oregon, home range size of four radiocollared individuals was 606-3418 sq m (Tallmon and Mills 1994).

Limited data indicate a home range of up to several hectares. Disperses viable spores of mycorrhizal fungi and nitrogen-fixing bacteria (see Maser and Maser 1988). Predators include marten, short-tailed weasel, spotted skunk, bobcat, coyote, domestic cat, owls, etc.

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Life History and Behavior

Cyclicity

Comments: Active throughout the year. West of Cascade range: active mostly at night; in mountains: active throughout 24-hour cycle (Maser et al. 1981).

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Reproduction

West of Cascade Range breeds throughout year; populations in Cascade Range breed February-November (females pregnant or lactating mainly April-September). Gestation lasts 17-21 days. Litter size averages 2-3 (Maser et al. 1981, Alexander and Verts 1992). Individuals females produce several litters/year.

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Myodes californicus construct lichen nests under logs and forest floor debris. Mating occurs from February to October and young are born from April to November (Alexander, 1999).

Breeding season: February to November

Range number of offspring: 2 to 6.

Average number of offspring: 3.

Average gestation period: 18 days.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); viviparous

Parental Investment: altricial ; female parental care

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Conservation

Conservation Status

National NatureServe Conservation Status

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure

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IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2008

Assessor/s
Linzey, A.V. & NatureServe (Hammerson, G.)

Reviewer/s
Amori, G. (Small Nonvolant Mammal Red List Authority) & Chanson, J. (Global Mammal Assessment Team)

Contributor/s

Justification
Listed as Least Concern because it is widespread, common, and there are no major threats.
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Myodes californicus are adversely affected by habitat fragmentation (due to reduced sporocarp abundance in cleared fields). They are also known to avoid road verge habitats, prefering to remain towards the forest interior. Human development of land, therefore, can apply a significant and damaging effect on M. californicus abundance.

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

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Population

Population
This species is common. In virgin forest, densities varied from 1.2/ha to 7.9/ha. Densities up to 12.4/ha recorded on a clear cutting several months after cutting, but before slash was burned. After burning, densities dropped and animals had disappeared by the following spring.

Population Trend
Stable
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Threats

Major Threats
There are no major threats to this species.
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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
This species is not of conservation concern at present, and its range includes several protected areas.
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

M. californicus feed primarily on the ectomycorrhizal fungi symbionts of trees and probably help disperse the fungal spores. These symbiotic relationships are believed to be essential for the health and growth of trees

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Wikipedia

Western red-backed vole

The western red-backed vole (Myodes californicus) is a species of vole in the family Cricetidae. It is found in California and Oregon in the United States[1] and lives mainly in coniferous forest. The body color is chestnut brown, or brown mixed with a considerable quantity of black hair gradually lightening on the sides and grading into a buffy-gray belly, with an indistinct reddish stripe on the back and a bicolored tail about half as long as the head and body. Average length is between 2.5–5.65 inches (65–137 mm), with height between 0.75–0.87 inches (18–21 mm).

The species is closely related to the southern red-backed vole (Myodes gapperi), which lives to the north and east of the range of this species, and is redder, with a more sharply bicolored tail.

The species breeds between February and November on the slopes of the Cascade Range in north Oregon, as well as all year to the west of the Cascade Range, with 2–7 young per litter and a gestation period of around 18 days.

Ecology[edit]

The western red-backed vole lives largely underground in an extensive system of burrows. It feeds preferentially on the fruiting bodies of the mycorrhizal fungi which are the symbionts of the forest trees around it. Rhizopogon vinicolor is one such which is associated with the Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga spp.). Fruiting of the fungus takes place in well decayed timber when the nutrients are becoming exhausted. Because the fruiting bodies are underground, the spores are not liberated into the air as in most fungal species. However, the spores are found in the vole's droppings and are deposited throughout its burrows, thus enabling the fungus to spread and form associations with uninfected trees. It has been found that in a clear-cut forest where all the dead wood and trimmings are removed, the mycorrhiza stops fruiting, the vole population dies out and newly planted trees fail to thrive. This is an example of a three way symbiosis. The vole gains food from the fungus and spreads its spores. The fungus gains photosynthetic products from the tree which benefits from the nutrients produced by the fungus.[3]

Biomonitoring[edit]

In areas where vole populations live in close proximity to industrial areas, voles are used as a sentinel organism to monitor environmental contamination, especially persistent organic pollutants such as PCBs which build up in the vole's fatty tissues.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Linzey, A.V. & NatureServe (Hammerson, G.) (2008). Myodes californicus. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 30 June 2009. Database entry includes a brief justification of why this species is of least concern.
  2. ^ Don E. Wilson; DeeAnn M. Reeder (2005). Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference. JHU Press. pp. 1022–. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. 
  3. ^ Schultz, Stewart T. The Northwest Coast: A Natural History. (1990) Timber Press, Inc. Portland, Oregon. pp. 275–276 ISBN 0881924180.
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Names and Taxonomy

Taxonomy

Comments: The species-group taxa occidentalis and caurina, formerly included in this species when it was known as Clethrionomys occidentalis, are now included in Myodes gapperi (see Musser and Carleton, in Wilson and Reeder 1993, 2005). See Alexander and Verts (1992) for a brief taxonomic history.

See Musser and Carleton (in Wilson and Reeder 2005) for an extensive discussion of the basis for correcting the generic name from Clethrionomys to Myodes.

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