Mice with mental road maps

As conservationists ponder the best ways to link up copses, hedges and fallow ground so that wildlife can move from one to another through farm crops, it seems that some rodents have already solved the issue.

In Italy, yellow-necked mice, bank voles and wood mice that were released into a crop of wheat between two patches of oak woodland all followed the corn planting lines to get to the trees. If they turned back for the other wood, they followed another planting line. However, when released in a field of bare soil or grass, they didn’t seem to know where they were going.

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‘If they could see the patch of forest because it was close enough, they moved towards it,’ says research leader Dr Alessio Mortelliti of the Sapienza University of Rome. ‘If not, they moved randomly and found it harder to travel from one habitat patch to another. They could end up going round in circles.’

Although conservationists recommend fallow field borders and better hedgerows as ‘link roads’, rodents at least might be best served by farmers planting their crops in lines between habitats.

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