The zoo-geomorphological impact of fossorial rodents in sub-polar alpine environments

University dissertation from Uppsala : Kulturgeografiska institutionen, Uppsala Universitet

Abstract: The geomorphological impact of small fossorial mammals (adapted to digging and living underground), such as rodents can be significant, and both their direct and indirect effects may contribute to landscape formation. This thesis is based on empirical field studies of two burrowing rodent species in sub-polar environments, namely invasive House mice (Mus musculus) on sub-Antarctic Marion Island and Norwegian lemmings (Lemmus lemmus) in sub-Arctic Abisko. The spatial distribution, sediment displacements, impact on vegetation and microclimatic effects of the rodents are documented.Invasive mice and rats, introduced on sub-Antarctic Islands during the 19th century, lack natural enemies and are shown to have a significant direct and indirect geomorphic impact by direct sediment displacement, vegetation removal by burrowing, grazing and trampling and thereby exposing the sediments for rain, wind and frost processes.  The geomorphic impacts of lemmings are comparatively more limited as they rely on natural hollows and snow cover for protection and do not burrow to the same extent as other fossorial rodents in cold regions. Lemmings are thus suggested to have little impact on landform integrity, but can affect vegetation composition.A comparison of the findings from this study with published data on seven other rodent species and other physical mass transfer mechanisms in sub-polar and alpine environments suggests that fossorial rodents are a significant and sometimes dominant geomorphic force in sub-polar and alpine environments. The geomorphic work by ground squirrels, ice rats, plateau pikas and zokors is shown to be in the same order of magnitude as solifluction and rock falls. In alpine and periglacial environments these rodents are considered to act as key-stone species and ecosystem engineers through the creation of landforms by  dislocation and of soil and other impacts on soil properties, vegetation and ecosystem function

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