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Exploring the impact of snow vole (Chionomys nivalis) burrowing activity in the Făgăraș Mountains, Southern Carpathians (Romania): Geomorphic characteristics and sediment budget

Voiculescu, Mircea, Ianăş, Ana-Neli, Germain, Daniel
Catena 2019 v.181 pp. 104070
Chionomys nivalis, altitude, bioturbation, burrows, cold, cold zones, mass transfer, meadows, mountains, rodents, sediments, soil, soil quality, topographic slope, valleys, Carpathian region, Romania
The potential zoogeomorphological impacts of burrowing animals, via soil excavation and spatial redistribution, creation of landforms, and bioturbation are now well established. Here, we present the first zoogeomorphological study conducted in the Făgăraș massif, Southern Carpathians (Romanian Carpathians), and consider the impact of Chionomys nivalis, a small rodent living at high elevations in cold climate and petrocolic soil conditions. The aims of our study were to highlight the impact of C. nivalis burrowing on alpine and subalpine meadows, and to calculate the sediment budget related to the rodent's activity. We therefore analysed burrow spatial distribution and density, and the related contribution to sediment displacement, mass transfer, and budget. Two glacial valleys sites between 1705 and 2262 m a.s.l. were selected based on their local topography and burrow density, found to be between 0.56 m−2 and 2.44 m−2; one located on the northern slope of the Făgăraș massif, the other on the southern slope. Within these two sites, we investigated 384 burrows, divided among nine plots; eight 25 m2 and one 100 m2. The slope angle of the plots were between 10o and 45o, and the general plot aspects are SW and NE. We measured mound dimensions (length, height, width, and angle) and the depth of each burrow, and calculated the total amount of excavated sediment to be 224,130 g, with a mean displacement rate of 0.11 ± 0.07 t ha−1 y−1, and a mean transfer of 23 ± 13.7 t m y−1 km2. This preliminary investigation provides reliable zoogeomorphological data that show the activity, spatial extent, and density of Chionomys nivalis differed among the plots. The values obtained can be compared with results for other rodents around the world, which carry out similar denudation processes in mountainous environments.