A rodent that lives on the plains of Inner Mongolia fells tall grasses so that it can scan the skies for flying predators, a study involving experts from the University of Exeter has found.
The practice by Brandt’s voles also means that shrikes, a type of carnivorous bird, are denied handy perches and places to use as larders for their prey, the study discovered.
Scientists from Exeter and universities in China and the US have established that the voles cut tall bunchgrass when shrikes, also known as butcher birds, were nearby. The voles do not eat the bunchgrass, but were observed to manage it as a means of self-preservation, an example of “ecosystem engineering”.
“When shrikes were present, the voles dramatically decreased the volume of bunchgrass,” said Dirk Sanders of the Environment and Sustainability Institute at the university’s Penryn campus in Cornwall.