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Condition and Diet of Cycling Populations of the California Vole, Microtus californicus

George O. Batzli and Frank A. Pitelka
Journal of Mammalogy
Vol. 52, No. 1 (Feb., 1971), pp. 141-163
DOI: 10.2307/1378438
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1378438
Page Count: 23
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Condition and Diet of Cycling Populations of the California Vole, Microtus californicus
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Abstract

Populations of the California vole, Microtus californicus, were followed at two sites near San Francisco Bay in order to investigate changes in diet and condition of these cycling microtine rodents. Mark and recapture analyses provided information on condition during seasonal (season to season) and annual (year to year) fluctuations, and snap trapping provided stomach samples for dietary analyses and carcasses for determinations of reproductive condition and fat reserves. Seasonal changes in condition were found to be correlated with dietary changes. The end of the breeding season in late spring was associated with low growth rates, low survival rates, and low fat reserves. At the same time the vegetation was drying, and the diet changed from one dominated by grass stems and leaves to one dominated by grass seeds. Breeding and adult growth sometimes began before the autumn rains while grass seeds were still the major dietary item, but occasional meals of green forbs and perennial grass were also taken at this time. Three annual grasses, Lolium multiflorum, Avena fatua, and Bromus rigidus, were preferred foods and formed the bulk of the winter diet at both low and high populations. The standing crop and seed production of these grasses were severely reduced by high vole populations. Reduction in food availability and quality might have caused the delay in the start of the breeding season, the low fat reserves and the continued population decline that were observed after the peak population. These results indicated that nutritive factors could be involved in microtine population cycles at low latitudes and point to the need for further research on diet quality and nutritional physiology of Microtus.

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