A collaborative project with UCDavis School of Veterinary Medicine, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the UC Berkeley Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, the Bureau of Land Management, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
This endangered species is the subject of our group's recovery efforts and intensive research. The Amargosa vole (Microtus californicus scirpensis) is a highly specialized, critically endangered small mammal subspecies that lives only in isolated wetland patches surrounded by the Mojave Desert east of Death Valley National Park. All of its habitat lies within the Bureau of Land Management’s Amargosa River Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) and Wild and Scenic River (WSR) management areas. Compared to other North American mammals, the vole, which requires habitat dominated by bulrush (Schoenoplectus americanus) and a permanent water source, occupies one of the rarest available habitat types in the Mohave Desert. Habitat loss and degradation have been the major causes of the species’ dramatic and ongoing decline. According to an early field journal of UC Berkeley Museum of Vertebrate Zoology’s Tracy Storer in 1917, the vole appeared to be “completely exterminated. There [were] no runways, even old ones, discernable, and none have been caught”. There was a successful collection of four individuals in 1939 at Tecopa Hot Springs but the vole was not again observed until the discovery of a small group of animals in 1973. The Amargosa vole was listed as an endangered species by the state of California in 1980 and an endangered species with critical habitat by the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in 1984. While land use conversion continues to be a concern, there is some unoccupied but suitable habitat both north and south of currently occupied sites. Current management and research focuses on identifying the most important current threats (such as disease, and predation, limited distribution, and lack of genetic variability). It is hoped that this research and management will determine how best to address these limitations in order to create a more robust and stable population which will ultimately lead to the recovery of this species.