Meadow vole-induced mortality of oak seedlings in a former agricultural field plantingThis article is part of a larger document. View the larger document here.
Seedling mortality due to meadow vole herbivory is an often acknowledged but relatively unstudied aspect of hardwood afforestation. Vole-induced mortality is not typically a major item of concern in afforestation attempts. However, damage has been extreme in some plantings. A total of 4,320 bare-root Nuttall oak (Quercus texana Buckley), Shumard oak (Quercus shumardii Buckley), and swamp chestnut oak (Quercus michauxii Nutt.) seedlings were planted in February 2008 on three Mississippi sites. All sites were of comparable soils and received above average precipitation throughout the 3-year duration of the study. One half of seedling plots were treated with a 1-year post-plant application of Oust XP® . The other half was treated for 2 years. May 2008 seedling survival was excellent at 99.7 percent. However, 76.9 percent of observed seedling mortality was directly attributable to vole damage. End-of-growing-season survival for the first three growing seasons was 98.9 percent, 97.1 percent, and 94.1 percent, respectively. While these survival rates would be considered excellent in most afforestation attempts, vole herbivory accounted for 57.6 percent of observed seedling mortality over the course of the study. If the assumption is made that vole-induced mortality had been nonexistent, third-year survival would have been approximately 97.5 percent. Fourth and fifth growing season mortality accounted for an additional 7.8 percent reduction in overall survival at one site. If vole-related seedling mortality were nonexistent, fifth-year survival would have been approximately 98.9 percent. Seedling mortality levels of this magnitude are significant and may deserve consideration in planting efforts.