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Article << Previous     |     Next >>   Contents Vol 38(7)

Topography and soil properties contribute to regional outbreak risk variability of common voles (Microtus arvalis)

Benjamin F. Blank A D , Jens Jacob B , Anja Petri C and Alexandra Esther B

A Nordhornstr. 55, 48161 Muenster, Germany.
B Julius Kuehn Institute, Federal Research Centre for Cultivated Plants, Institute for Plant Protection in Horticulture and Forestry, Vertebrate Research, Toppheideweg 88, 48161 Muenster, Germany.
C von-Holte-Str. 85, 48167 Muenster, Germany.
D Corresponding author. Email: blank.benjamin@web.de

Wildlife Research 38(7) 541-550 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/WR10192
Submitted: 22 October 2010  Accepted: 8 March 2011   Published: 18 November 2011

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Context: Common voles (Microtus arvalis) are the most common vertebrate pests in central European agriculture. During outbreaks common vole populations can increase to an enormous number of individuals; however, this outbreak risk varies regionally.

Aims: In this study we tested whether topography and soil properties are suited to explain the regional variability in the outbreak risk of the common vole in Eastern Germany. This study provides the first detailed large-scale study of the association of site characteristics and small mammal outbreak risk at a regional scale.

Methods: Data on common vole outbreaks were recorded by active burrow counts at 82 sampling sites in Eastern Germany from almost four decades. Data on topography and soil properties – i.e. groundwater fluctuation index, soil air capacity, saturated hydraulic conductivity, soil class and elevation – were obtained from soil maps and a digital elevation model in a geographic information system and were related to outbreak risk classes, applying classification and regression trees (CART). Based on these results a map of the outbreak risk was developed for the area.

Key results: Classification and regression tree analyses revealed that the mean elevation, area-related percentage of Chernozem soils and soil air capacity were the site characteristics best suited to explain local variability in outbreak risk. In the northern German lowland, below an elevation of ~83 m above sea level, the outbreak risk is generally very low. The region of the central upland has an increased risk for outbreaks of common voles. Within the region of the central uplands the risk was again elevated if the area covered by Chernozem soils was higher than 36%, and increased further if the area covered by soils with a moderate soil air capacity was higher than 90%.

Conclusions: Topography and soil properties, and accordingly the character of a landscape, are static parameters that affect the local risk of common vole outbreak. Further detailed field investigations of soil properties are required to link the variation in regional outbreak risk to site characteristics with relevance to common vole ecology.

Implications: Areas of varying regional outbreak risk of common voles can be defined according to static site characteristics identified in this study. They can provide a spatial framework to relate dynamic parameters, such as meteorological parameters, as well as biological parameters, such as food availability, to common vole outbreaks. This could be used in the future to develop improved predictive models to forecast common vole outbreaks.

Additional keywords: CART, Chernozem, digital soil mapping, GIS, risk map, rodent management.


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