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Overview

Brief Summary

Field voles can run very fast and look for coverage quickly when in danger. They are also good swimmers. They live in damp terrains, such as marshes and tall grasslands. Field voles eat mostly plants such as grass, fruit, seeds and bark, and occasionally eat worms, insects, spiders or larvae.
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Biology

Although active throughout the day and night, this vole is most active at dusk (4). It feeds primarily on the stems and leaves of grasses (4). Males defend territories, whereas females do not (4). Breeding typically takes place between April and September, but births may occur throughout the year when conditions are good (4). Between 2 and 7 litters are produced each year, each consisting of 4-6 young. Sexual maturity is reached at 40 days in males, and 28 days in females (4). Most predatory birds and mammals take field voles; indeed this species is a very important component of the diet of many of Britain's birds of prey, so much so that creation of grasslands suitable for field voles has been shown to boost populations of kestrels (Falco tinnunculus) and barn owls (Tyto alba) (5). The maximum lifespan for field voles is 18 months, although very few individuals survive to reach their second autumn (4). When it occurs in high densities, the field vole can be a pest in grasslands, young plantations and crops (4). Although there are few data to show populations sizes of field voles, there is a general belief that populations may have been declining since 1970 (4).
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Description

Like all voles, the field vole has a small, stocky body and a blunt, rounded muzzle (5). The fur is greyish-brown on the upperparts, and creamy-grey below. The rounded ears are covered with fur, and the eyes are less obvious than in mice (2).
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Distribution

Range Description

The field vole is a widespread Palaearctic species, ranging from western Europe eastwards through Russia to Lake Baikal in south-east Siberia. It is present in Great Britain, and much of continental Europe (e.g. Portugal, Spain, France, Switzerland, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovenia and Serbia) but it is absent from Iceland, Ireland and southernmost Europe (Zima 1999, Shenbrot and Krasnov 2005). The Mediterranean populations may be a separate species, but more taxonomic work is needed to confirm this. It occurs from sea level to 2,100 m in the Alps (Spitzenberger 2002).
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Range

This species is believed to be the most numerous of the British mammals; it has a wide albeit patchy distribution throughout Britain. They are not present on the Scilly Isles, Orkney, Shetland or Lundy Island (4). This vole is also widespread throughout central and northern Europe (4).
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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
It occurs in a wide range of habitats including grasslands, woods, upland heaths, dunes, marshes, peat-bogs and river-banks, tending to prefer damp areas. It occurs in a number of anthropogenic habitats including meadows, field-margins and young forestry plantations, but is absent from heavily grazed areas (Zima 1999). The field vole is predominantly herbivorous, feeding on grasses and herbaceous plants, and gnawing bark in the winter. Exceptionally, animal prey (e.g. dipteran larvae) are taken (Krapp and Niethammer 1982).

Systems
  • Terrestrial
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Inhabits ungrazed grasslands, with plenty of vegetation cover (4). Main habitats include meadows, the margins of fields, and forestry plantations, but they may also be found in hedgerows, dunes, open moorland and blanket bogs (4).
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Associations

Animal / parasite / ectoparasite / blood sucker
Amalaraeus penicilliger mustelae sucks the blood of Microtus agrestis

In Great Britain and/or Ireland:
Animal / parasite / endoparasite
fluke of Corrigia vitta endoparasitises pancreas (interlobary canals) of Microtus agrestis

Animal / rests in
Entamoeba muris rests inside large intestine of Microtus agrestis

Animal / parasite / endoparasite
cyst of Frankelia microti endoparasitises brain of Microtus agrestis

Animal / parasite / endoparasite
Giardia microti endoparasitises small intestine of Microtus agrestis

Animal / parasite / endoparasite
schizont of Hepatozoon microti endoparasitises liver of Microtus agrestis
Other: minor host/prey

Animal / parasite / ectoparasite / blood sucker
Hystrichopsylla talpae talpae sucks the blood of Microtus agrestis
Other: minor host/prey

Animal / parasite / ectoparasite
Polyplax serrata ectoparasitises body of Microtus agrestis

Animal / rests in
caecum of Syphacia obvelata rests inside Microtus agrestis

Animal / parasite / endoparasite
Trichomonas muris endoparasitises caecum of Microtus agrestis

Animal / parasite / endoparasite
Trypanosoma microti endoparasitises blood plasma of Microtus agrestis
Other: sole host/prey

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Life History and Behavior

Life Expectancy

Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 4.8 years (captivity) Observations: Voles, in general, are short-lived and show seasonal population crashes, probably due to lack of food. One captive specimen lived 4.8 years (Richard Weigl 2005).
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Microtus agrestis

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 11
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
Kryštufek, B., Vohralík, V., Zima, J. & Zagorodnyuk, I.

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

Contributor/s

Justification
A widespread and common species with no major threats.
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Status

Not legally protected in the UK. No conservation designations (3).
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Population

Population
It is generally common, although it may be locally rare in marginal parts of its range in western and central Europe. In some areas, population density fluctuates markedly over a cycle of approximately three to four years. In peak years it can cause damage to pastures, orchards and forestry plantations (Zima 1999).

Population Trend
Stable
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Threats

Major Threats
There appear to be no major threats to this species over much of its range.
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Overgrazing, reductions in the amount of rough grassland, development, scrub growth and removal of linear features such as hedgerows, all impact negatively on this vole. Furthermore, poisoning by rodenticides is also a threat (4).
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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
The species is present in a large number of protected areas throughout its wide range. No specific conservation measures are required.
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Conservation

The precise status of the field vole is not clear at present. Although a common species, it may well have declined, and its importance as a food source for predatory birds makes it more pertinent that its status should be assessed (4). Conservation measures and the maintenance of biodiversity are important, even though this vole is common. The creation of grassy field margins and set-aside areas encourages this species (2), and has the added bonus that birds of prey also benefit (5).
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Wikipedia

Field vole

Field vole distribution

The field vole or short-tailed vole (Microtus agrestis) is a grey-brown vole,[2] around four inches (ten centimetres) in length, with a short tail. It is one of the most common mammals in Europe, with a range extending from the Atlantic coast to Lake Baikal. These voles are found in moist grassy habitats, such as woodland, marsh or on river banks. Although they make shallow burrows, they usually build nests above ground. They are an important food source for owls and some other predators and their population size tends to peak and trough cyclically. Field voles breed prolifically, mainly in summer, but often all year round, even under snow. Females produce up to seven litters a year, each averaging from four to six young which are weaned after about fourteen days. The field vole is both widespread and common and is listed as being of "Least Concern" by the IUCN.

Description[edit]

The field vole is a small, dark brown rodent with a short tail, distinguishable from the closely related common vole (Microtus arvalis) by its darker, longer and shaggier hair and by its more densely haired ears. The head and body length varies between 3.75 and 5.25 inches (95 and 133 mm) and the tail between 1 and 1.75 inches (25 and 44 mm). The weight is 0.7 to 1.8 ounces (20 to 51 g). The voice is a faint, low squeak and it also emits a range of chattering sounds.[3]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

The field vole has a palearctic distribution. Its range extends throughout Western Europe and eastwards to Lake Baikal in Siberia and north west China and northward to Norway, Sweden and Finland. It is absent from Iceland and Ireland and thins out southwards towards the Mediterranean Sea. It is found in a range of habitats including meadows, field borders, plantations, woodland verges, clearings, upland heaths, dunes, marshes, bogs and river banks and tends to prefer wet areas.[1] It is found at altitudes of up to about 1,700 metres (5,600 ft).[3]

Behaviour[edit]

Young field vole

The field vole is more active by day than the common vole. It excavates shallow burrows close to the surface of the ground, under leaf litter and under snow in winter. It also makes surface runs through tall vegetation, routes along which it can scurry back to safety if danger threatens. Off these are dedicated defecation sites and it often leaves little piles of chopped up grass stalks nearby.[3]

The field vole is a herbivore and feeds on grasses, herbs, root tubers, moss and other vegetation and gnaws bark during the winter (it does not hibernate). It occasionally eats invertebrates such as insect larvae.[1] Among the plants it favours are the grasses Agrostis spp. and Festuca rubra, the yarrow (Achillea millefolium), clover (Trifolium spp.), dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) and buttercups (Ranunculus spp.). The voles choose species with high digestibility where possible and avoid some common plants amongst which they live such as the tufted hairgrass (Deschampsia cespitosa) and rosebay willowherb (Chamerion angustifolium). The animals have low energy reserves and these are only able to sustain them for five to fourteen hours. Because of the low availability of food in the winter, drier habitats are unable to sustain populations of much over two hundred animals per hectare. The number of voles expands rapidly with the arrival of spring and the better availability of food supplies.[4]

Field voles are an important part of the diet of barn owls and they are also preyed on by kestrels, other owls, weasels, stoats, foxes and snakes. Though very numerous, they have little impact on man except in plague years when the may cause significant damage to crops.[5]

Breeding[edit]

The field vole breeds throughout the year but the breeding season peaks in spring and summer. The nest is made on or just under the surface of the ground, often in a clump of grass or sedge. The gestation period is about three weeks and up to a dozen young are borne. These grow rapidly, suckle for twelve days and leave the nest at twenty one days, reaching sexual maturity soon afterwards. Like the common vole, the field vole is subject to population explosions when conditions are right.[3] Females become pregnant again soon after parturition. The pregnancy rate is nearly 100% in late spring but falls during midsummer only to rise again later. Mortality in the nest is about 20% but may rise to 50% in the middle of summer when the digestibility of the food supplies fall. Life expectancy is about two years but is lower for spring-born individuals than for ones born later in the year.[6]

Male field voles maintain a territory but females just have a home range which may overlap with that of a neighbour. After leaving the nest, young female voles remain in or near their mother's home range but young males are forced to disperse by the aggressiveness of the adult males. Female field voles sometimes spontaneously move in the time gap between weaning one litter and producing the next, a phenomenon typical of this species. One of the causes of the large population swings that occur in the field vole is the scramble competition which comes into play when the most desirable food plants are less available in mid summer.[7] At this time litter sizes may fall, growth rates slow down, there may be increased mortality of young in the nest, adults may lose weight and some may die. Similar competition can occur in winter when the availability of greenstuff fails and starvation ensues.[7]

Status[edit]

The field vole is common over most of its very wide range, although thinning out towards the peripheries and may be locally scarce where conditions are less suitable. The population seems stable over the long term though there are marked fluctuations from year to year. The IUCN in its Red List of Threatened Species has therefore listed it as being of "Least Concern".[1]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Kryštufek, B.; Vohralík, V.; Zima, J.; Zagorodnyuk, I. (2008). Microtus agrestis. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 2013-08-11.
  2. ^ 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. 990–991. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494. 
  3. ^ a b c d Konig, Claus (1973). Mammals. Collins & Co. p. 119. ISBN 978-0-00-212080-7. 
  4. ^ Hansson, Lennart (1971). "Habitat, food and population dynamics of the field vole Microtus agrestis (L.) in south Sweden". Viltrevy 8: 268–278. ISSN 0505-611X. 
  5. ^ "Field vole: Microtus agrestris". Young People's Trust for the Environment. Retrieved 2013-08-10. 
  6. ^ Myllymäki, A. (1977). "Demographic Mechanisms in the Fluctuating Populations of the Field Vole Microtus agrestis". Oikos 29 (3): 463–493. doi:10.2307/3543588. JSTOR 3543588. 
  7. ^ a b Myllymäki, A. (1977). "Intraspecific Competition and Home Range Dynamics in the Field Vole Microtus agrestis". Oikos 29 (3): 553–569. doi:10.2307/3543594. JSTOR 3543594. 
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