You’re not the only one studying your land! Science professors at Earlham College in Richmond are studying it too. In a study focusing on the Children of Indiana Nature Park habitats, they want to know how different habitats affect mammal populations and species diversity. In this study, mice are the target mammals.
“Mice are an important part of the food chain so it is a way to study what larger animals the forests will be able to support if mice numbers increase when they are restored,” Karen H. Mager, Assistant Professor of Environmental Sustainability and Biology at Earlham College tells us.
They tracked mice by using live traps which do not hurt the mice and using motion-sensor cameras to capture larger animals in areas mice might frequent such as water sources and areas where a large number of animal prints have been found. This is to find what mammals are using the habitats found in the Park, how often they are using them, and what times of day are they there.
The study focused on three areas in the Park, the field, the forest area with the old white pine plantation, and old growth forest areas nearby. While the camera in the field did not work out this time around, they were able to use the camera footage from the forests. The mice traps provided evidence that they are in the white pine forest, but more mice are in the old growth forest. That fact “suggests we’ll find more mice in the Children’s Park as restoration continues,” Mager says.
So far, the study has shown two types of mice are found in the area: white footed mice and deer mice. Larger numbers of them are found in the forested areas of the Children of Indiana Nature Park. No mice have been found in the field. What was found in the field was a meadow vole. These small mammals are more likely to be in open areas like a field provides.
As for larger animals, deer, raccoons, squirrels, and even a coyote have all been captured on camera. One of the cameras focused on the mousetraps found raccoons had been tampering with the traps to get the sunflower seeds left in them as bait.
Over time, the transformation of the field to hardwood forest will be an interesting way to see if other types of mice move into the area and how their population numbers are affected. If mice populations grow, the diversity and density of other mammals that rely on mice for food could also grow.
The Earlham professors are talking with former owners of the land to better understand how the land got to its current state and learn more about conservation efforts in Wayne County. The Children of Indiana Nature Park is part of an effort of connect more forested area of eastern Indiana together. When the land is connected, animals will find it easier to move throughout the area.
This research project will continue for years so as you watch how your land changes over time, these scientists are also watching.