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Concept: Vole


The mechanistic basis of speciation and in particular the contribution of behaviour to the completion of the speciation process is often contentious. Contact zones between related taxa provide a situation where selection against hybridization might reinforce separation by behavioural mechanisms, which could ultimately fully isolate the taxa. One of the most abundant European mammals, the common vole Microtus arvalis, forms multiple natural hybrid zones where rapidly diverging evolutionary lineages meet in secondary contact. Very narrow zones of hybridization spanning only a few kilometres and sex-specific gene flow patterns indicate reduced fitness of natural hybrids and incipient speciation between some of the evolutionary lineages. In this study, we examined the contribution of behavioural mechanisms to the speciation process in these rodents by fine-mapping allopatric and parapatric populations in the hybrid zone between the Western and Central lineages and experimental testing of the partner preferences of wild, pure-bred and hybrid female common voles.

Concepts: Natural selection, Evolution, Rodent, Speciation, Vole, Microtus, Hybrid zone, Common Vole


We report a PCR survey of hantavirus infection in an extensive field vole (Microtus agrestis) population present in the Kielder Forest, northern England. A Tatenale virus-like lineage was frequently detected (≈17% prevalence) in liver tissue. Lineages genetically similar to Tatenale virus are likely to be endemic in northern England.

Concepts: DNA, Infectious disease, Virus, Vole, Microtus, Field Vole, Arvicolinae, Woodland Vole


Consolation behavior toward distressed others is common in humans and great apes, yet our ability to explore the biological mechanisms underlying this behavior is limited by its apparent absence in laboratory animals. Here, we provide empirical evidence that a rodent species, the highly social and monogamous prairie vole (Microtus ochrogaster), greatly increases partner-directed grooming toward familiar conspecifics (but not strangers) that have experienced an unobserved stressor, providing social buffering. Prairie voles also match the fear response, anxiety-related behaviors, and corticosterone increase of the stressed cagemate, suggesting an empathy mechanism. Exposure to the stressed cagemate increases activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, and oxytocin receptor antagonist infused into this region abolishes the partner-directed response, showing conserved neural mechanisms between prairie vole and human.

Concepts: Rodent, Brodmann area 24, Anterior cingulate cortex, Cingulate cortex, Muroidea, Vole, Microtus, Prairie Vole


Common voles (Microtus arvalis) can cause enormous damage in agriculture. Tests were conducted using an alternative approach to rodenticide-based vole management by developing an in-soil odour repellent based on the secondary plant metabolite methyl nonyl ketone (MNK). Replicated 25 m(2) plots were established in forage grassland to test efficacy and application schemes using a foam application that included MNK.

Concepts: Livestock, Voles and lemmings, Vole, Microtus, Common Vole, Arvicolinae, Woodland Vole


During the last decades, large tularemia outbreaks in humans have coincided in time and space with population outbreaks of common voles in northwestern Spain, leading us to hypothesize that this rodent species acts as a key spillover agent of Francisella tularensis in the region. Here, we evaluate for the first time a potential link between irruptive vole numbers and human tularemia outbreaks in Spain. We compiled vole abundance estimates obtained through live-trapping monitoring studies and official reports of human tularemia cases during the period 1997-2014. We confirm a significant positive association between yearly cases of tularemia infection in humans and vole abundance. High vole densities during outbreaks (up to 1000 voles/hectare) may therefore enhance disease transmission and spillover contamination in the environment. If this ecological link is further confirmed, the apparent multiannual cyclicity of common vole outbreaks might provide a basis for forecasting the risk of tularemia outbreaks in northwestern Spain.

Concepts: Time, Population ecology, Natural environment, Rodent, Francisella tularensis, Vole, Microtus, Common Vole


Echinococcus multilocularis is a zoonotic tapeworm with a sylvatic lifecycle and an expanding range in Europe. Monitoring efforts following its first identification in 2011 in Sweden have focused on the parasite’s definitive host, the red fox (Vulpes vulpes). However, identifying rodent intermediate hosts is important to recognize opportunities for parasite transmission. During 2013-2015, livers from a total of 1566 rodents from four regions in Sweden were examined for E. multilocularis metacestode lesions. Species identity of suspect parasite lesions was confirmed by PCR and sequencing. E. multilocularis positive lesions >6 mm in diameter were also examined histologically. One Microtus agrestis out of 187 (0.5%, 95%CI: 0-2.9%), 8/439 (1.8%, 95%CI: 0.8-3.6%) Arvicola amphibius, 0/655 (0%, 95%CI: 0-0.6%) Myodes glareolus, and 0/285 (0%, 95%CI: 0-1.3%) Apodemus spp. contained E. multilocularis metacestode lesions. Presence of protoscoleces was confirmed in the infected M. agrestis and in three of eight infected A. amphibius. Six of the nine positive rodents were captured from the same field. This is the first report of E. multilocularis in intermediate hosts in Sweden. The cluster of positive rodents in one field shows that local parasite prevalence can be high in Sweden despite overall low national prevalence in foxes (<0.1%). The presence of protoscoleces in infected M. agrestis and A. amphibius indicate these species can serve as competent intermediate hosts in Sweden. However, their relative importance for E. multilocularis transmission in the Swedish environment is not yet possible to assess. In contrast, the negative findings in all M. glareolus and Apodemus spp. suggest that these species are of no importance.

Concepts: Canidae, Cestoda, Fox, Vulpes, Red Fox, Arctic Fox, Vole, Foxes


Short lived, iteroparous animals in seasonal environments experience variable social and environmental conditions over their lifetime. Animals can be divided into those with a “young-of-the-year” life history (YY, reproducing and dying in the summer of birth) and an “overwinter” life history (OW, overwintering in a subadult state before reproducing next spring).We investigated how behavioural patterns across the population were affected by season and sex, and whether variation in behaviour reflects the variation in life history patterns of each season. Applications of pace-of-life (POL) theory would suggest that long-lived OW animals are shyer in order to increase survival, and YY are bolder in order to increase reproduction. Therefore, we expected that in winter and spring samples, when only OW can be sampled, the animals should be shyer than in summer and autumn, when both OW and YY animals can be sampled.We studied common vole (Microtus arvalis) populations, which express typical, intra-annual density fluctuation. We captured a total of 492 voles at different months over 3 years and examined boldness and activity level with two standardised behavioural experiments.

Concepts: Reproduction, Life, Season, Autumn, Spring, Winter, Vole, Microtus


Oxytocin (OT) is a hormone shown to be involved in social bonding in animal models. Intranasal OT is currently in clinical trials for use in disorders such as autism and schizophrenia. We examined long-term effects of intranasal OT given developmentally in the prairie vole (Microtus ochrogaster), a socially monogamous rodent, often used as an animal model to screen drugs that have therapeutic potential for social disorders.

Concepts: Model organism, Rodent, Cricetidae, Muroidea, Vole, Microtus, Arvicolinae, Prairie Vole


Introduced species are often less parasitised compared to their native counterparts and to ecologically similar hosts in the new environment. Reduced parasitism may come about due to both the loss of original parasites and low acquisition of novel parasites. In this study we investigated the intestinal helminth parasites of the introduced bank vole (Myodes glareolus) in Ireland. Results were compared to data from other European studies and to the intestinal helminth fauna of an ecologically similar native rodent in Ireland, the wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus). The helminth fauna of introduced bank voles exhibited low diversity with only 3 species recovered: Aspiculuris tianjinensis; Aonchotheca murissylvatici and Taenia martis larvae. In particular, no adult parasites with indirect life-cycles were found in bank voles suggesting that indirectly transmitted parasites are less likely to establish in invasive hosts. Also, the results of this study add support to the enemy release hypothesis.

Concepts: Intestinal parasite, Rodent, Invasive species, Muroidea, Bank Vole, Voles and lemmings, Vole, Red-backed vole


Across species, there is usually a positive relationship between sperm competition level and male reproductive effort on ejaculates, typically measured using relative testes size (RTS). Within populations, demographic and ecological processes may drastically alter the level of sperm competition and thus, potentially affect the evolution of testes size. Here, we use longitudinal records (across 38 years) from wild sympatric Fennoscandian populations of five species of voles to investigate whether RTS responds to natural fluctuations in population density, i.e. variation in sperm competition risk. We show that for some species RTS increases with density. However, our results also show that this relationship can be reversed in populations with large-scale between-year differences in density. Multiple mechanisms are suggested to explain the negative RTS-density relationship, including testes size response to density-dependent species interactions, an evolutionary response to sperm competition levels that is lagged when density fluctuations are over a certain threshold, or differing investment in pre- and post-copulatory competition at different densities. The results emphasize that our understanding of sperm competition in fluctuating environments is still very limited.

Concepts: Evolution, Biology, Sperm, Demography, Population, Density, Population density, Vole