Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Seems Tiny, but the News Isn't

 The have moved the Stephen's kangaroo rat in Southern California's inland empire from endangered to threatened. This was spearheaded by people from UC Riverside.

The University worked with the county and set up reserve in the hills where The 60 heads up and over to Moreno Valley and then Palm Springs.

It doesn't seem like much, but the kangaroo rat in question is a "keystone" animal that provides food for other larger animals. I am quoting now from a story on the UC Riverside website (link).

California has been able to remove the gentle, seed-eating Stephens’ kangaroo rat from the endangered species list this year, thanks in large part to the efforts of one man. Joseph Messin is assistant director at the Motte Rimrock Reserve, an area of natural, undeveloped land managed by UC Riverside on the western edge of the Perris Valley. For more than two decades, Messin has been tracking Stephens’ kangaroo rats to help policymakers learn whether efforts to save the species are working.

Though their longevity is still in question due to climate change and habitat loss, the state downlisted the rats from endangered to threatened, and while there is still some danger of development encroaching on parts of the rats’ habitat, a sizeable amount of grassland has now been set aside and protected for them.

The change in status is a win for many who find the rats charming. Resembling hamsters with long tails and oversized hind feet, the small rodents are endemic to Southern California — primarily Riverside County — and are known to have a friendly disposition. They also hop on hind legs, similar to kangaroos.

“They’re not aggressive. They don’t seem concerned with having people around at all,” Messin said. “They sometimes hang out in the area after being released from a trap, even hopping onto our boots.”

Their ecological importance, however, goes beyond their charm. They’re a keystone species, meaning other animals, like owls, snakes, coyotes, and bobcats, depend on them for their own survival. They’re also good for the land itself.

“They dig underground to make and expand burrows, which churns underground soil, and they play an important role in dispersing seeds,” Messin said. “They’ll often forget about stores of seeds they’ve collected, and then the seeds start growing.”

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