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Overview

Brief Summary

Biology

Water voles are herbivores, feeding on a huge variety of waterside vegetation (2), and consume 80 percent of their body weight each day (5). Their burrow systems have several horizontal layers to guard against flooding (5), and there is usually an underwater entrance to provide this strong swimmer with a safe route in and out (2). Above-water entrances to the burrow can often be identified by a 'lawn' of cropped grass around the hole (2). During the breeding season, the boundaries of female's ranges are marked with latrines, piles of flattened droppings where scent marking occurs. Each year between April and September, one to five litters consisting of three to seven blind, naked pups can be produced. Occasionally, dominant daughters may oust their mother from her territory after bouts of teeth chattering, tail beating and even boxing with the forefeet. In winter, a female, her daughters and unrelated males share a communal nest, but they do not hibernate (7).
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Description

The water vole is the largest and most famous of the British voles (5). 'Ratty' in Kenneth Grahame's Wind in the Willows was not a rat, but a water vole; water rat is a local name for the species (5). Water voles have a short hair-covered tail, a blunt, rounded nose, and a small chubby face with small ears. They have a rich chestnut-brown coat (2), but individuals in Scotland often have black fur. The fur traps air that provides thermal insulation when swimming, and they also possess flaps of skin in the ear that prevent water from entering (5).
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Comprehensive Description

Description

鉴别特征 同属征。

形态
外形:在欧亚大陆,水田鼠是个体最大的田鼠,体长通常超过150mm,尾长稍大于体长之半,约占体长的56%。尾巴基部粗,向末端逐渐明显变细。尾毛短而密,尾毛长约4—5mm,几乎将尾上的鳞片全覆盖住,尾尖稍形成一束小笔巴。尾巴向拉,约达其肩部。尾巴在水中挥摆,使其在水中向前游泳,同时尾又如船舵,可以控制其游泳的方向。
头较圆,颈短,外观看,似乎头直接联接在躯体上。嘴闭上时,上门齿稍突伸出口外,上吻也略向前伸。吻垫小,无毛。吻垫与无毛的上唇中沟相连接。眼小,位于嘴与耳朵之间的14处。耳朵发育良好,轮廓为半圆形,不太高,隐于毛被下。耳孔内侧的肉质瓣发达,呈钝三角形状,无毛。耳朵内外均有一层较长的毛。
四肢短粗,后肢略长于前肢。前脚宽而粗。5个前指中,拇指退化,变小,比最小的掌垫还要小,其背面有十分扁的指甲。其中4个前指中,第3指最长,第4指仅比第3指略短;第2指约达第3指中部;第5指仅略超过第4指基部。此4个前指均具爪,爪相当发达,但较细,并且稍弯曲。掌垫5个,均发育良好。其中后面两个掌垫最大,二者差不多等大,位于第3指基部与第4指基部中间的掌垫最小。后脚大,脚趾部两侧均生有较短的梳状穗毛,游泳时扩大了后脚的面积,便于划水;但后趾间没有蹊,与后部趾间有半蹊的麝鼠不同。后脚5趾。第1趾最短,仅略超出第2趾的基部;第5趾稍长一些,可达第4趾中部;第二第3和第4趾差不多等长,其中第3趾稍长一些,为5个脚趾中最长的。爪比前脚爪稍粗大。后脚掌裸露,只有第3趾基部稍有稀疏而柔软的短毛。蹠垫5个,均十分发达。后内侧在第一趾(最短的脚趾)基部的蹠垫最大,轮廓近似半圆形;第5趾基部的蹠垫,轮廓也似半圆形;其他三个蹠垫均为窄卵圆形。
乳头8个。两对在胸部,两对在腹部。
水田鼠尾巴和后脚,均具水生生活的特化。这与田鼠属的种类截然不同,具分类学意义。
毛色:水田鼠亚种分化甚多,毛色变异较大。中国虽仅分布在新疆北部,但却有两个亚种。本书对种的描述,毛色仅能依中国标本的毛色加以描述。凭文献资料的介绍,描述国外亚种的毛色,是难以准确的。暂不考虑,容今后借阅或交换标本后,再介绍种的毛色。
新疆的水田鼠,背毛棕褐色、灰褐,乃至黑褐色;腹毛的毛基铁灰色,毛尖土黄,或腹毛灰色为主,毛尖稍有棕黄色,但棕黄色面积不大;体侧比背色稍浅,有的亚种有棕黄色泽,有的亚种没有棕黄色泽。尾巴背面毛色相同,均为黑褐色,尾底面稍有灰色,但并没构成背与底明显的二色。前、后脚背面黑褐色。头顶与背色同,头侧和颊部,有时包括耳朵,似腹色,有深棕黄色泽。
头骨:棱角分明,较粗硕。头骨轮廓和各部分的比例,与田鼠属大致相似。腭骨后缘中央有向翼内窝倾斜延伸的骨桥,侧窝孔大,但相当浅,反映出其与田鼠属有较近的亲缘。然而,水田鼠鳞嵴突(squamosal crest)形态特异,状如三角形的顶尖,呈钉子状,则是此属重要鉴别特征之一。眶间收缩明显。眶上嵴粗,左右眶上嵴在中间愈合,形成一个锐利的中嵴,在额骨后部两侧眶上嵴又分开,其末端分别接到左、右顶骨外侧角上。顶骨较窄,顶间骨却较宽,其上、下缘近乎平行,宽为高的两倍,上缘中央有一个尖突,整个顶间骨的轮廓似个王冠。人字略高,两侧嵴明显,由顶面下观可以看到枕髁。鼻骨窄,并不太长。鼻骨前端明显短于颌骨前端,左右鼻骨总宽明显小于同部位的吻部。颧弓粗,上颌颧突既宽又粗,向外逐渐扩展,至鳞骨额突关节窝处,颧弓最宽。此外,左右鳞骨也向外扩展。头骨总轮廓,从背面观,虽宽度并不窄,但主体部分并不太宽,颅室侧嵴之间的平坦部分,大致如宝石形。
门齿孔短。腭骨后缘有骨桥。翼状骨明显。听泡大,却不太高,底面不超过下臼
齿的咀嚼面。
下颌骨冠状突向后弯,顶部尖;髁突粗;角突短。
牙齿:上门齿由牙根至牙尖,轮廓似半圆形,其齿根在眶前孔的前缘,形成一个稍膨大处。下门齿孔的齿根向后延伸至下颌骨髁突的底部,在其外侧形成一个不太高的小突起。
臼齿大而粗,没有齿根,终生持续生长。第1上臼齿前端有一个倒置三角形轮廓的齿环,下面有4个交错排列的封闭三角形齿环,外侧(唇面)两个,内侧(舌面)两个;第2上臼齿前端,也有一个倒置三角形齿环,下面有三个交错排列的封闭三角形,外侧有两个,内侧有一个;第3上臼齿前端也有一个倒置三角形齿环,下面有两个封闭三角形,外侧的小,内侧的大,后端有一个椭圆形齿环,有的个体,此齿环与内侧的大三角形贯通。
第1下臼齿后端有一个不等边三角形齿环,其上面有三个交错排列的封闭三角形,外侧一个,内侧两个,前端有一个轮廓如人字形的齿环,撇形的一臂长,捺形的一臂短;第2下臼齿后端也有一个不等边三角形齿环,上面也有两个封闭三角形,前端有一个略呈人字形的齿环,此齿环撇形的臂短而较细,捺形的臂长而粗;第3下臼齿咀嚼面的齿型十分特异,由三个自左上方向右下方倾斜的近似长方形的齿环所构成。自下而上,三个长方形下面的最大,上面的两个逐渐变小,最上面的最小。由于个体变异大,臼齿咀嚼面的齿形轮廓虽如此,但是有的个体个别的三角形封闭的程度不一,有的毗邻的三角形彼此汇通。
量衡度 见亚种部分。
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Distribution

Range Description

There is much confusion between Arvicola amphibius and A. scherman and the distribution of both taxa should be considered tentative. Arvicola amphibius, as understood here, has a large range extending from France and the United Kingdom in the west, through much of continental Europe and Russia, as far as the Lena Basin and Lake Baikal in Siberia (Russia). Its range extends north of the Arctic circle and south into Iran and the Near East (Shenbrot and Krasnov 2005).
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欧洲绝大部分,但不包括意大利南部、法国西部、西班牙和葡萄牙,俄罗斯欧洲部分、西伯利亚和中亚。
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中国新疆西北部。
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Geographic Range

Water voles (Arvicola amphibius) inhabit the Paleartic region, spanning most of central and western Europe, Siberia, Mongolia and some parts of southwest Asia (Nowak, 1991).

Biogeographic Regions: palearctic (Native )

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Range

The water vole is widely distributed throughout Europe from the UK to eastern Siberia (5). It is widespread throughout Britain but is generally restricted to lowland areas beside water (2). Once a very familiar mammal of the British countryside, the population has undergone one of the fastest and most serious recent declines of any British mammal (5). The species has been in decline for many decades (6), and a national survey in 1996 to 1998 showed that the water vole had been lost from a massive 94 percent of sites (5) and had vanished from entire catchments in northeast Scotland, North Yorkshire and Oxfordshire (5).
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Jefferies 1996-1998 study on water vole distribution in the UK shows a precipitous drop (88%) in water vole population since his previous study in 1989-90. He records that the estimated UK summer population of voles had declined from 7,294,000 to 875,000 in only eight years. He also records the loss of 69.62% of occupied sites in the same time period. Pressure from sheep grazing and feral mink predation were found to be the main reasons for this.

  • Jefferies, D.J. (ed) (2003)
  • The water vole and mink survey of Britain 1996-1998 with a history of the long term changes in the status of both species and their causes.
  • The Vincent Wildlife Trust, Ledbury, U.K.
  • ISBN:0-946081-49-2
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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

Average male body length is 210 mm, with females averaging 187 mm. Tail length averages 124 mm in males and 116.5 in females. Males average 263 g, while females average 232 g (Thompson, 1964).

With a dense coat of fur, small, rounded ears, and short tail, A. amphibius resembles other voles of similar size. Water voles are relatively large voles. Their pelage is thick and extends from the head to the end of the tail. Coloration ranges from light to dark brown on top (sometimes black); and from white to slate gray on their underside. This coloration makes them difficult to see in the dense vegetation they prefer. Claws on each of the feet are well developed, and flank glands on the sides of the body used to mark territory are visible most of the time as well. Water voles possess the typical rodent dental formula and posses continuously growing cheek teeth (Niethammer, 1990; Nowak, 1991).

Range mass: 70 to 250 g.

Range length: 120 to 220 mm.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry

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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
This large vole is adaptable and survives in a range of habitats around rivers, streams and marshes in the lowlands and the mountains (Harrison and Bates 1991). It is a strong swimmer and climber (Harrison and Bates 1991). It occurs around streams and irrigation ditches. In Fennoscandia and locally in the Balkans, they live fossorial life during winter months. Steep riverbanks with lush grass and vegetation are preferred. May be active at any time, but are most active at dawn and dusk. Mainly vegetarian, feeding primarily on succulent vegetation, but also consumes some insects, mollusks, and small fish; roots, bulbs and tubers in the winter (Reichstein 1982, Harrison and Bates 1991). Reproduction occurs during the warmer months of the year and may begin as early as February in mild years. Gestation period is 21 days. Females produce 2-4 litters per year. Average litter size between 4-6 young.

Systems
  • Terrestrial
  • Freshwater
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Water voles live in the banks of rivers, streams, ponds, and other bodies of water that maintain a fairly constant water level. They prefer areas with good vegetation cover. They are mainly found in lowland areas near waterways but also sometimes occur in gardens and fields. Water voles dig lengthy burrows, ranging from 34 m in the winter up to 74 m in the summer. Burrows contain one or two nests and in the winter contain storage chambers for food (Niethammer, 1989; Nowak, 1991).

Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial

Aquatic Biomes: rivers and streams

Wetlands: marsh ; swamp

Other Habitat Features: agricultural ; riparian

  • Niethammer, J. 1990. Water Voles (Genus *Arvicola*). Pp. 242245 in S Parker, ed. Grzimek's Encyclopedia of Mammals, Volume III. NY: McGraw-Hill Publishing Company.
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Prime water voles sites are found along densely vegetated banks (2) of slow flowing rivers, ditches, lakes and marshes where water is present throughout the year (5).
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Trophic Strategy

Food Habits

The diet of Arvicola amphibius is comprised mainly of various forms of vegetation. This includes different types of grasses, herbs, and sometimes fruits and seeds. Water voles also feed on the roots of some plants, causing extensive root damage and sometimes destruction of crops. In addition to vegetation, water voles will sometimes supplement their diet with water snails, freshwater mussels, and mollusks (Cobet, 1966; Thompson, 1964).

In the winter, water voles usually maintain at least one chamber in the burrow as a place to store grasses and other food to feed on during lean winter months. They do not live entirely off this store, and will still forage for food during the winter (Nowak, 1991).

Common foods eaten include: reed grass, reeds, flote-grass, water snails, freshwater mussels, grasses, sedges, rushes, mollusks, dandelions, cattail, soft grass, moor grass, water milfoil, water crowfoot, herbs, twigs, buds, bulbs, fallen fruit (Thompson, 1964; Niethammer, 1990; Nowak, 1991).

Animal Foods: insects; mollusks

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

Foraging Behavior: stores or caches food

Primary Diet: herbivore (Folivore , Granivore )

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Associations

Animal / dung saprobe
apothecium of Ascozonus woolhopensis is saprobic in/on dung or excretions of dung of Arvicola terrestris
Other: major host/prey

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Ecosystem Roles

Water voles are an important prey base for many small to medium-sized predators. They are also important in nutrient cycling through their burrowing and grazing activities in the ecosystems in which they live.

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Predation

Water voles seek safety in their burrows and restrict their movements mainly to areas of dense vegetative cover to avoid predation. Their prodigious reproductive rates generally help to maintain viable populations under predation stress by natural predators. However, non-native American mink (Neovison vison) are decimating water vole populations in the British Isles.

Known Predators:

Anti-predator Adaptations: cryptic

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Known predators

Arvicola terrestris is prey of:
Ardeidae
Lutrinae
Esox
Buteo buteo
Mustela vison

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
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Known prey organisms

Arvicola terrestris preys on:
Mollusca
Insecta

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
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Life History and Behavior

Life Expectancy

Lifespan/Longevity

Water voles are short-lived, probably suffering the highest mortality rates in their first year. They can live up to 5 years in captivity but average lifespan is less than a year in the wild.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
5.4 months.

Range lifespan

Status: captivity:
5 (high) years.

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 2.5 years (captivity) Observations: These animals live on average less than 6 months in the wild. It has been reported that they live up to 5 years in captivity (Ronald Nowak 1999), which is doubtful even if not impossible. Record longevity in captivity is 2.5 years (Richard Weigl 2005).
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Reproduction

Male home ranges overlap those of several females and males continually compete for access to receptive females. Research using microsatellite analysis of genetic patterns confirmed that the mating system was promiscuous (Stewart et. al., 1999).

Arvicola amphibius undergoes one mating season per year, usually ranging from early spring (April/March) to late summer/early autumn (August/October). During this time water voles can have up to four litters with an average number of four to six young each. The gestation period is short, 21 days, and postpartum estrus and mating usually occurs shortly after birth. Newborn weight is usually 5g, with young opening eyes around 5 days, and becoming weaned 14 to 21 days after birth. Sexual maturity is reached during their first summer, if born early in the season, or in the following mating season (Bazhan et al., 1996; Nowak, 1991). Females may mature as early as 5 weeks of age.

Breeding interval: Water voles can have up to 4 litters in each breeding season.

Breeding season: Breeding occurs from April to October.

Range number of offspring: 2 to 8.

Average number of offspring: 4-6.

Range gestation period: 20 to 22 days.

Average weaning age: 21 days.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 5 (low) weeks.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 5 (low) weeks.

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

While males sometimes participate in the raising of the young, the females are the main care givers (Niethammer, 1990). The young are born helpless but rapidly develop and become independent.

Parental Investment: precocial ; male parental care ; female parental care

  • Bazhan, N., E. Makarova, T. Yakovleva. 1996. Deprivation of Food During Pregnancy and Reproduction in the Water Vole (*Arvicola terrestris*). Journal of Mammalogy, 77: 1078-1084.
  • Nowak, R. 1991. Walker's Mammals of the World, 6th Edition. MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
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Michael Stoddart in his 1971 study of water vole breeding and survival found that most voles disappear when they are between four and five months old. Only a few survived to two years.

  • Stoddard, D. M. (1971), Breeding and Survival in a population of water voles, Journal of Animal Ecology 40:487-494.
  • See http://www.jstor.org/pss/3257
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Arvicola amphibius

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 4
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Arvicola terrestris

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 1
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2008

Assessor/s
Batsaikhan, N., Henttonen, H., Meinig, H., Shenbrot, G., Bukhnikashvili, A., Amori, G., Hutterer, R., Kryštufek, B., Yigit, N., Mitsain, G. & Palomo, L.J.

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

Contributor/s

Justification
This species has a wide distribution, and is considered a pest in parts of its range. The population size has not been quantified, but it is not believed to approach the thresholds for the population size criterion of the IUCN Red List (i.e. less than 10,000 mature individuals in conjunction with appropriate decline rates and subpopulation qualifiers). Although there are ongoing declines in some range states (such as Britain, Italy, and the Netherlands), the overall population trend is believed to be stable at the global level. For these reasons, it is evaluated as Least Concern.
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Some humans have attempted to take actions against water voles in efforts to minimize damage to crops (Neithammer, 1990). However, water voles are on the decline in some regions. For example, in England changes due to habitat and introduction of American mink, Neovison vison, is thought to be playing a large role in the decline of water vole populations (Storey, 2001). Conservation efforts are underway in various parts of the British Isles to protect water vole populations.

US Migratory Bird Act: no special status

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

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Status

Fully protected under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (3) (4).
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Population

Population
Population declines are evident in some European countries (e.g., United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Italy) (Saucy 1999, Battersby 2005). However, in many areas it is common and stable (in northern continental Europe it is considered a pest species). Even in optimal habitat, aquatic forms seldom occur at densities greater than 100 individuals per hectare (roughly equivalent to 15 individuals per 100 m of river bank)(Saucy 1999). In Fennoscandia and the Baltic area the aquatic form also shows population cycles in synchrony with other vole species. At high population densities, large scale damages on rice fields have been reported in Macedonia (B. Kryštufek pers. comm. 2007). The water vole is thought to have been a common species in the Hula swamps of Israel until the area was drained in 1957 (Qumsiyeh 1996). In Azerbaijan, considered to be common in semi deserts, lowland and riparian forests, mountain forests and mountain grasslands and numerous in foothill and mountain steppes. The species is locally abundant in lush banks.

Population Trend
Stable
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Threats

Major Threats
Declines in aquatic populations in parts of western Europe have been attributed to habitat loss, water pollution, predation by introduced American mink Neovison vison and competition by the introduced muskrat Ondatra zibethicus. Population fragmentation is more pronounced in Mediterranean populations due to increased aridity. In Israel it was a common species in the Hula swamps until the area was drained in 1957; a very limited area of the original swamp habitat remains (Qumsiyeh 1996). In Anatolia and Iran, pressure on aquatic habitat for water resources and localized competition with Rattus norvegicus (i.e., Georgia). Local population extinctions and reductions have occurred in Turkey, Georgia and other parts of this range due to drainage of swamp habitat (Qumsiyeh 1996). It is considered an agricultural pest and extensive control measures in rice fields were carried out in Macedonia in the 1980s.
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The shocking decline in both range and numbers of the water vole is due to a number of factors. The large-scale loss and fragmentation of sensitive waterside habitats due to riverbank modification, drainage and flood defence works has been an important factor (5), as has the pollution of waterways and poisoning by rodenticides (3). Perhaps the most serious threat facing the beleaguered water vole is predation by the introduced American mink (3). When threatened, water voles often dive under water and kick up a cloud of mud to hide from predators. This does not fool the American mink, however, which is able to successfully hunt the water vole on land, in the water and even inside the burrow system. There is a correlation between the loss of water vole sites and American mink presence (5), and the introduced mink has even resulted in local water vole extinctions (2).
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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
The species occurs in protected areas but is frequently considered a pest species.
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Conservation

It is likely that the water vole will become extremely rare in areas colonised by American mink; the elimination of American mink is unrealistic, but numbers can be controlled in key areas in an attempt to ease the pressure on the water vole. Habitat enhancement such as the encouragement of a broad variety of waterside vegetation and recreation of natural features such as water meadows and oxbow lakes could benefit the species. Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, it is an offence to disturb, obstruct or damage water vole burrows. A booklet has been produced by English Nature, providing guidance on the water vole for planners and developers (8). Research into the ecology and habitat needs of this species is essential, as little work has been carried out on it due to its previously common status (3).
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Negative economic impacts from A. amphibius on humans stems mainly from the destruction of human crops such as beans, peas, and some forms of apple trees (Niethammer, 1990). In rare circumstances they have also been known to weaken river banks due to their extensive burrowing (Thompson, 1964)

In addition to crop damage and bank damage, A. amphibius is also known to sometimes carry and transmit tularemia. The disease affects mostly wild rodents and rabbits, but can be transmitted to humans by contact with animal flesh or tick bites (Nowak, 1991; WebMD, 1999).

Negative Impacts: crop pest

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Although their economic benefit is somewhat limited, in some regions (such as that once occupied by the former Soviet Union), water voles are hunted for fur.

Positive Impacts: body parts are source of valuable material

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Wikipedia

European water vole

The European water vole or northern water vole, Arvicola amphibius (formerly A. terrestris), is a semi-aquatic rodent. It is often informally called the water rat, although it only superficially resembles a true rat.[3] Water voles have rounder noses than rats, deep brown fur, chubby faces and short fuzzy ears; unlike rats their tails, paws and ears are covered with hair.

In the wild, on average, water voles only live about five months. Maximum longevity in captivity is 2 and a half years.[4]

Appearance[edit]

Water voles reach 140–220 millimetres (5.5–8.7 in) in length plus a tail of 55–70 millimetres (2.2–2.8 in) of this. Adults weigh from 160–350 grams (5.6–12.3 oz), juveniles weigh less but must reach around 140–170 grams (4.9–6.0 oz) to be able to survive their first winter. They are brown but sometimes they have really tiny spikes along their back

Taxonomy[edit]

The binomial applied to the water vole is Arvicola amphibius, it was formerly known by the junior synonym A. terrestris. The confusion stems from the fact that Linnaeus described two species of water vole on the same page of the same work. Those two forms are now universally considered the same species. It has been recognized as A. amphibius (Linnaeus, 1758) because the first source to unite the two forms that Linnaeus had treated separately into a single species chose A. amphibius as the valid name.[1] The species is widely known by the synonym A. terrestris which for many decades was treated as the valid name.

Some authorities consider the southwestern water vole (Arvicola sapidus) to be the same species, but this is now generally considered to be distinct.[2][5]

Range[edit]

The water vole Arvicola amphibius is found in much of Great Britain, northern and central Europe and in parts of Russia.[2]

Habitat[edit]

Water vole, Ore Mountains, Germany

In Britain, water voles live in burrows excavated within the banks of rivers, ditches, ponds, and streams. Burrows are normally located adjacent to slow moving, calm water which they seem to prefer. They also live in reed beds where they will weave ball shaped nests above ground if no suitable banks exist in which to burrow.

Water voles prefer lush riparian vegetation which provides important cover to conceal animals when they are above ground adjacent to the water body. Areas of heavily grazed and trampled riparian habitats are generally avoided.[6] Water voles may be displaced by the introduction of riparian woodland and scrub as they prefer more open wetland habitats away from tree cover.

As well as frequenting typical lowland wetland habitats dominated by rank marginal aquatic vegetation, water voles are also just as at home in areas upland 'peatland' vegetation where they utilise suitable small ditches, rivers and lochs surrounded by moorland up to 1000 m asl (e.g. northern Scotland).[7]

In Europe and Russia, they may venture into woods, fields, and gardens. They live under the snow during the winter.

Diet[edit]

Water voles mainly eat grass and plants near the water. At times, they will also consume fruits, bulbs, twigs, buds, and roots. In Europe, when there is enough food to last water voles a long time, water vole "plagues" can take place. Water voles eat ravenously, destroying entire fields of grass and leaving the fields full of burrows, during these plagues. Ecologists have discovered that normally vegetarian water voles living in Wiltshire, England have started eating frogs' legs and discarding the bodies. It has been speculated that this is to make up for a protein deficiency in the voles' diet.[8]

Food remains alone are not a reliable indicator of the presence of this species, as other smaller voles can also leave remains of large grasses and rushes.[9]

Breeding[edit]

The mating period lasts from March into late autumn. The female vole's pregnancy lasts for approximately 21 days. Up to 8 baby voles can be born, each weighing around 10 grams (0.4 oz). The young voles open their eyes three days after their birth. They are half the size of a full grown water vole by the time they are weaned.

Behaviour[edit]

Water voles are expert swimmers and divers. They do not usually live in large groups. Adult water voles each have their own territories, which they mark with fecal latrines located either near the nest, burrow and favoured water's edge platforms where voles leave or enter the water.[7] Latrines are known to be a good survey indicator of this species, and can be used to gauge abundance of animals.[10] They also scent-mark by using a secretion from their bodies (a flank gland), although this is not normally detectable during a field survey. They may attack if their territory is invaded by another water vole.

Conservation[edit]

United Kingdom[edit]

The water vole population in the UK has fallen from its estimated pre-1960 level of around 8 million to 2.3 million in 1990 and to 354,000 (other source: 750,000) in 1998. This represents a 90–95% loss. It is still declining dramatically: the most recent estimate for 2004 is around 220,000. This decline is partly attributed to the American Mink, an aggressive predator of the vole, together with unsympathetic farming and watercourse management which destroyed parts of the water vole's habitat.

On 26 February 2008, the UK Government announced full legal protection for water voles would be introduced from 6 April 2008.[11] This makes it an offence to disturb, damage or obstruct their breeding places.

The water vole is the UK's fastest declining mammal and efforts are under way to protect it and its habitat from further destruction. One aspect of water vole conservation in the UK is focused on non-linear habitats such as reed bed which support extensive networks or metapopulations. Other areas supporting healthy populations of water voles are large conurbations such as Birmingham and London and some upland areas where American Mink are scarce. Across the UK the Wildlife Trusts and other organisations are undertaking many practical projects to conserve and restore water vole populations.

Water voles have recently returned to Lindow Common nature reserve in Cheshire, UK, after many years of absence.[12] The reserve rangers credit this to conservation management, which included thinning of woodland.

Wetlands West (formerly the Severn and Avon Vales Wetlands Partnership) reports on work done as part of the Water Vole Recovery Project in the Berkeley Vale.[13] In Gloucestershire a new nature reserve for water voles was created in 2009/2010 at Nind (a former Trout Farm).

There are also indications that the water vole is increasing in numbers in UK areas where the European otter has made a return.[14]

Literary appearances[edit]

A water vole named Ratty is a leading character in the 1908 children's book Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame: the locality used in the book is believed to be Moor Copse in Berkshire, England, and the character's name "Ratty" has become widely associated with the species and their riverbank habitat, as well as the misconception that they are a species of rat.[15][16]

In the comic novel and film Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons, one of the characters, Urk, refers to the subject of his unrequited love, Elfine Starkadder, as his little water vole. Throughout the story, Urk spends a lot of time talking to the water voles on the farm.

C. S. Calverley a 19th Century writer of (among other things) light verse, in his poem "Shelter," beginning:

By the wide lake's margin I mark'd her lie--

The wide, weird lake where the alders sigh--

Tells of an apparently shy, easily frightened young female by a lakeside, who in the last line of the poem, it's revealed that:

For she was a water-rat.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Musser, G. G.; Carleton, M. D. (2005). "Superfamily Muroidea". In Wilson, D. E.; Reeder, D. M. Mammal Species of the World (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 894–1531. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494. 
  2. ^ a b c Amori (1996). Arvicola terrestris. 2006. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. www.iucnredlist.org. Retrieved on 12 May 2006.
  3. ^ Freeston, Helen (1997). "Tales of the Riverbank—How to spot 'Ratty' (previously "Water Volewatch 97")". Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust. Archived from the original on September 25, 2006. Retrieved 2006-08-23. 
  4. ^ "The Mammal Society". Mammal.org.uk. Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  5. ^ Amori (1996). Arvicola sapidus. 2006. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. www.iucnredlist.org. Retrieved on 23 August 2006.
  6. ^ Strachan, R. and Moorhouse, T. (2006). Water Vole Conservation Handbook (2nd edition). Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, University of Oxford.
  7. ^ a b Harris, S. and Yalden, D.W. (2008). Mammals of the British Isles: Handbook, 4th Edition. The Mammal Society.
  8. ^ "Water voles get a taste for frogs". BBC News. 30 April 2010. 
  9. ^ Ryland, K. and Kemp, B (2009). "Using field signs to identify water voles - are we getting it wrong?", In Practice, Bulletin of the Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management. 63, March 2009 (pp. 23-25).
  10. ^ Strachan, R. and Moorhouse, T. (2006). Water Vole Conservation Handbook (2nd edition). Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, University of Oxford.
  11. ^ Macclesfield Borough Council's "Countryside and Ranger Service". "News from Lindow". Retrieved 2006-08-23. 
  12. ^ "Berkeley Vale Water Vole Recovery Project (2007-2010)", Wetlands West Annual Report 2009/10, Appendix E". Wetlands West. Retrieved 2012-10-18. 
  13. ^ "Otters 'prompt vole resurgence'". BBC. 2006-09-10. Retrieved 2006-09-11. 
  14. ^ "RSPB". RSPB. Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  15. ^ Water Voles: The Return of Ratty (2009-01-21). "BBC Devon". Bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
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