Amargosa vole gets emergency help

By Jane Hendron

A captive-bred Amargosa vole prior to being released near Tecopa Hot Springs, California. Photo Credit: Don Preisler, UC Davis School of Veterany Medicine for USFWS

Found only in a few spring-fed marshes in the Mojave desert east of Death Valley National Park, the Amargosa vole was federally listed as endangered in 1980, due to loss and degradation of its habitat.

Cleaning up and restoring habitat for the Armagosa vole. Photo: USFWS

In 2014, the rangewide population of this species was fewer than 100 individuals. To prevent the possible extinction of this species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, University of California, Davis, U.S. Geological Survey, Bureau of Land Management, and California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife partnered to capture 20 voles from marshes near Tecopa Hot Springs to serve as founders for a captive breeding colony.

They underwent testing for pathogens and genetic analysis to ensure the most diverse breeding pool possible before being placed together in breeding pairs at the UC-Davis facility.

Janet Foley, a veterinary professor at the University of California, Davis, and part of the team spearheading recovery efforts, said they learned alot about the life history of the voles. "We've learned so much already from the voles in the colony," said Foley. it turns out "both males and females are involved to some extent in care of young Amargosa voles are not monogamous, and new pups can reproduce as early as 4 weeks of age."

Captive reintroduction field team: from L to R: Brian Croft (USFWS), Patrick Donnelly (The Amargosa Conservancy), Chris Otahal (BLM), Risa Pesapane (UC-Davis), Stephanie Castle (UC-Davis), Janet Foley (UC-Davis), Deana Clifford (CDFW), Susan Sorrells (Shoshone), and Nick Shirkey (CDFW). Photo credit: USFWS

In the summer of 2015, 12 captive-bred Amargosa voles (Microtus californicus scirpensis) were released near Tecopa Hot Springs, California as part of this interagency recovery effort.

UC Davis researchers will monitor the released voles to study survival, reproduction and predation. Additional releases are being planned.

The interagency recovery group has also worked to stabilize and begin restoration of degraded vole habitat near Tecopa Hot Springs and is working with private landowners to establish additional habitats to support reintroduction of voles to their type locality.

One habitat restoration project on private land in Shoshone, California, involves replanting native bulrush in a spring-fed area. The native bulrush is preferred by the voles for feeding, breeding, and sheltering.

Find additional information on the Amargosa vole recovery project on the California Department of Fish and Wildlife site here.

Jane Hendron is the public affairs officer for the Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife Office in Carlsbad, California.

Pictured here, the BLM’s Amargosa Wild and Scenic River in California is known for its wildlife value. The Amargosa vole is an endangered mammal isolated to the wetlands associated with the Amargosa River. Biologists determined in 2014 that the endangered Amargosa vole had an 82 percent chance of going extinct within the next five-years, if immediate management actions were not taken. So BLM California, U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, researchers at UC Davis, and a group of partners created the multi-agency Amargosa vole team to rescue the tiny rodent living precariously in the rare marshes of the Mojave Desert. Photo credit: Bureau of Land Management.