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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

    Arb Notes

    <u enjoy the brilliant fall colors of autumn in the arb, take the time to view some of the magnificent wildflowers and grasses in the prairies. Just how these wonderful plants come to thrive is often more complex than one might thing. There is strong competition among the many different species of flowers and grasses for space, and many seeds need some help in order to germinate. So how do so many of these flowers and grasses find room to sprout?

    There is surprising animal which provides the opportunity these plants need to thrive in this crowded environment. That animal is the Plains Pocket Gopher, Geomys bursarius. An unsightly tan-colored gopher reaching up to 13 inches in length, it has short legs with huge feet, and long teeth made for digging. Rarely seen above ground, it is identified by the mounds it leaves when it burrows. These mounds are about a foot in diameter and have a shape resembling a horseshoe and can be found throughout the prairies in the arb.

    These mounds are important to prairie diversity. Prairies are very crowded ecosystems; with many plants growing there is little room for exposed soil, making it difficult for seeds to germinate. The pocket gopher mounds turn up and expose much needed soil which the seeds can fall on and germinate. Feces also adds organic materials to the soil. The Plains Pocket Gopher also plays another vital role because it turns over and aerates soil as it tunnels underground. In a surprisingly short time, a community of pocket gophers can till vast amounts of soil in the arb.

    Next time you visit the arb and see the more than 80 different species of wildflowers and grasses in the prairie, don’t forget the role that the pocket gopher, often considered a pest, plays in allowing these plants to bloom.

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