Wildlife Damage Management, Internet Center for


Date of this Version

April 1991


Seidel and Booth (1960) wrote that the "life histories of the genus Microtus are not numerous in the literature." In support of his observation he cited 6 publications, all dated between 1891 and 1953. Since then the literature has exploded with a proliferation of publications. An international literature review recently revealed over 3,500 citations for the genus. When Pitymys and Clethrionomys are included another 350 and 1,880, respectively, were found. Over the last 10 years approximately 3 new publications on voles appeared every 4 days; a significant output for what some would consider such an insignificant species. Most of the publications were the result of graduate research projects on population dynamics and species ecology. As such, many do not explore more than the rudimentary ecological relationships between the animal and their environments. Unfortunate, as well, is that all but one confined their observations to only a small part of their total environment. For many of these animals, their life underground may be more important for their survival than that above ground. Trapping studies conducted by Godfrey and Askham (1988) with permanently placed pitfall live traps in orchards revealed a significant inverse population fluctuation during the year. During the winter, when populations are expected to decrease, as many as 6 to 8 mature Microtus montanus were collected at any 1 time in the traps after several centimeters of snow accumulation. During the summer, when populations are expected to increase, virtually no animals were collected in the traps. According to current population dynamics theory, greater numbers of animals, including increasingly larger numbers of immature members of the community, should appear in any sample between the onset of the breeding period, generally in the spring, taper off during the latter part of the production season, usually late summer, and then decline as the limiting factors begin to take effect. For us, we trapped more animals in the fall and early winter than we did during the spring and summer. A review of the above literature did little to answer our question. Where are the animals going during the summer and why?