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Cascade effects of slope gradient on ground vegetation and small-rodent populations in a forest ecosystem
- Lee, Jae-Kang, Hwang, Hyun-Su, Eum, Tae-Kyung, Bae, Ho-Kyoung, Rhim, Shin-Jae
- Apodemus agrarius, Larix kaempferi, deciduous forests, forest ecosystems, ground vegetation, mice, microhabitats, plantations, woodlands, South Korea
- In this study, we set out to determine the cascade effects of slope gradient on ground vegetation and small-rodent populations in a forest ecosystem. We focused on two forest-dwelling small rodents with different habitat requirements, the striped field mouse Apodemus agrarius (preferring dense ground vegetation) and the Korean field mouse A. peninsulae (dense forest and woodland). The study area comprised natural deciduous forests and Japanese larch Larix kaempferi plantations in South Korea. The abundance of A. agrarius but not that of A. peninsulae was related to slope gradient. There was a negative effect of slope gradient on ground vegetation coverage and a positive effect of ground vegetation on A. agrarius populations. Our results highlight that the population of A. agrarius was indirectly influenced by the negative effects of slope gradient on ground vegetation. Slope gradient can, therefore, be a limiting factor in the microhabitats occupied by small rodents. This study reveals a critical role for slope gradient since it can modify not only microhabitat conditions, but also small-rodent populations, and this finding can contribute to improved microhabitat management.