Three Florida Salt Marsh Voles - an Extremely Rare Subspecies - Discovered on Florida’s Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge
June 9, 2004
The salt marsh vole is so rare that before April of this year only 15 individuals of this subspecies had been foundin the last 22 years, all at one site near Cedar Key, Florida. Since 1982, efforts by numerous researchers have been unable to document voles anywhere else within Florida’s Big Bend region.
This spring, Steve Barlow, wildlife biologist, and Mike Mitchell, assistant manager at Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge in Chiefland, Florida conducted a methodical search on the refuge for voles.Because Florida salt marsh voles require habitat dominated by seashore salt grass, numerous sites were surveyed for this vegetative type and compared to an original capture location. A site with the best potential habitat was selected, and a trapping survey began in April. After four days of trapping, three Florida salt marsh voles – one female and two males - were captured. The discovery of these voles marked the first time the subspecies had ever been captured at a location other than the original site.
“These remarkable discoveries add new hope to the future of this critically endangered small mammal,” said Mitchell. “This further exemplifies the importance of preserving and protecting Florida’s fragile salt marsh habitats.”
The Florida salt marsh vole, a subspecies of its northern cousin the meadow vole,is larger in size, has smaller ears, and an overall darker coloration. Voles can be active during days and nights, and they spend most of their time feeding on grasses, seeds, and probably some insects. The Florida salt marsh vole seems to prefer areas in the salt marsh dominated by seashore salt grass, especially where this grass is tall and dense. The voles form runways beneath the tall grass and are rarely, if ever seen. It is unknown exactly how the voles survive strong storms and floods. While voles are excellent swimmers, it is assumed they survive long periods of high water by clinging to the tops of vegetation. Voles have a life span of only six months, and they begin breeding at two months of age.
Due to the low numbers of Florida salt marsh voles found at only two small sites, a single catastrophe, such as a hurricane could eliminate this subspecies. Adding to these problems, are the current, rather rapid rise in sea level and the persistent pressure for development along Florida’s coastline. Because of these threats, the Florida salt marsh vole was federally-listed as an endangered species on January 14, 1991.
Recovery efforts for this subspecies call for continued surveys to document other isolated locations of voles and to complete more detailed life-history studies of the current known populations. An emphasis will continue to be placed on conserving Florida’s Big Bend salt marsh region, through management of public lands and cooperative opportunities with private landowners.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 544 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to State fish and wildlife agencies.
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