U.S. Department of Agriculture: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service


Date of this Version

October 2007


Published in Integrative Zoology 2007; 2: 154-164.


No-till farming is an important approach to sustainable agriculture because it can conserve soil and water resources. Unfortunately, rodent populations can thrive under no-till conditions because burrow systems are not disrupted by annual plowing and plant residues build-up on the surface, providing cover and insulation. This can result in substantial crop damage. We assessed rodent populations, habitat use, food habits, and crop damage in a no-till cropping system in Washington, USA. We also conducted preliminary trials of methods to reduce rodent populations and crop damage. In the fall, many more rodents were captured in fields with unharvested crops than in fields containing only plant stubble, suggesting that rodents leave fields after crop harvest, providing that suitable habitats are nearby, even when adequate cover is still available in harvested crop fields. By spring, the number of voles captured was much lower relative to fall. Despite this, capture rates were much higher in surrounding permanent grass areas than in crop (barley, wheat, pea) fields, suggesting that these grassy areas serve as refugia for rodents. Furthermore, the permanent grass cover type was the landscape variable most associated with rodent capture rates. In three winter pea fields, rodents removed 5–15% of the pea plants over winter. Examination of stomach contents revealed that voles mainly fed on grain plants in spring, but that their diet was more diversified in fall. Deer mice fed heavily on grain plants in both spring and fall, but also used insects as food. Metal barrier exclosures (9 m × 9 m), extending above and below ground, did not prevent access by rodents. Rodent populations in areas treated with zinc phosphide on grain were comparable to untreated areas 1 year after application of the rodenticide, perhaps because of immigration and recruitment, suggesting that baiting does not provide a long-term solution to rodent damage in no-till agricultural fields.