Kangaroo Rats Get Home Improvement

Seedlings are protected by plastic sheathes as part of kangaroo rat habitat restoration.

Stephens’ kangaroo rats are adapted to live in native grasslands. After successfully translocating 150 kangaroo rats in September 2010 (see SKRs Get TLC), it was time to start restoring their habitat. This meant planting. And I’m not talking about a leisurely day in the garden. I’m talking 10,000 plants! Each plant required a blue “plant protector” to shield it from the wind and water loss. We also dug a basin around each seedling so that when it rains, the plants get the most rain for their buck.

Prior to the translocation, we got the site “kangaroo-rat ready” by opening up the space by removing thick, exotic grasses using three management techniques: burning, mowing, and sheep grazing. We applied each of these techniques to our six experimental plots. Although we know that this will work in the short term, we need help to remove invasive grasses for the long-term and keep the habitat open for the kangaroo rats. Therefore, we are establishing native bunch grasses to help out-compete the invasive grasses. These plants will also provide cover for the kangaroo rats, so they can avoid predators, as well as supply a delicious food resource for our seed-eating rodents. We only restored half of our plots to determine if this is truly beneficial for the kangaroo rats.

I’m happy to say that with the hard work of the Applied Plant Ecology Division of the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, the staff at Lake Skinner Reserve, San Diego Zoo and Institute volunteers, and California Department of Forestry prison fire crews, we finished planting! We will continue to water the plants monthly and monitor the kangaroo rats. Will this plant enhancement increase survival for the kangaroo rats? Only time and monitoring will tell…

Maryke Swartz is a senior research technician at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.

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