Seasonal Variation in Small Mammal Granivory in Restored Tallgrass Prairie

Schneider, Stefan
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University of Guelph

Plant – animal interactions are strongly intertwined, as plant availability can limit the size and fecundity of consumer populations while consumers can limit plant production and diversity. Rodent-plant interactions in prairie systems are likely substantial and highly seasonal however this has not been rigorously tested. I examined seasonal variation in the consumption of prairie plants by small mammals by comparing monthly differences in: seed removal, seed preference, diet as well as monitoring fenced plant communities. My work revealed strong seasonal variation in the removal of prairie seed with consumption highest during summer and winter, times of high and low population size. The highest proportions of native prairie plants were consumed during late summer with a diet of mostly non-prairie plants the remainder of the year. My research suggests that small mammals could potentially influence prairie plant diversity, with these impacts occurring mostly in a narrow seasonal window of late summer.

This study answered the question of when seasonally rodents have the greatest impact on a restored tallgrass prairie plant community. Five complementary experimental methods were used spanning an entire year: cafeteria trials, plant identification using DNA analyses, trap lines, exclosures and enclosures. In combination my research suggests small mammals could potentially influence prairie plant diversity during a narrow seasonal window of late summer. Additionally, an unexpected appearance of a short-tail weasel population reduced rodent population size, possibly acting to mitigate rodent impacts on prairie plant communities.
Small Mammal, Prairie, Seasonality, Trophic, Granivory, Rodent, Diversity, Trophic Cascade, Tallgrass Prairie, Predation, Mustela, Peromyscus, DNA, Diet, Seed Removal, Population, Trapping, Cages, Palatable, Seed, Predator, Prey, Top-Down, Bottom-Up, Consumer, Resource, Restoration, Erminea, Stoat, Deer Mouse, Jumping Mouse, Zapus, Foraging, Preference, rodent-plant, interactions, abundance, richness, capture, recapture, trap line, exotic, species, native