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Eat, run and scat: How tiny woodland creatures have a big impact on the recovery of New Hampshire's forests

Creatures like mice are important to healthy forests.
University of New Hampshire
University of New Hampshire
Creatures like mice are important to healthy forests.

New research shows creatures like chipmunks, mice, voles and shrews help maintain the health of New Hampshire’s forests, according to findings from the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station at the University of New Hampshire.

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These animals help foster the special fungi that help trees thrive, said Ryan Stephens, the lead researcher on a recent study that looked at the role tiny animals play in forests after a timber harvest.

Arbuscular mycorrhizal and ectomycorrhizal fungi help trees take in water and nutrients, and support trees in becoming resilient to stresses like drought.

Fungal diversity decreases after a timber harvest when trees that host the fungi die. But researchers found that small creatures assist in bringing fungal spores to new trees that are trying to grow. You're probably expecting the way they do it relates to poop. And you'd be right.

“Small mammals eat the mushrooms and truffles, they run around the landscape, and disperse the spores in their scat. So they’re kind of acting like pollinators by pooping these spores across the landscape,” Stephens said.

The research could help forest managers make decisions that keep forests healthy. Patches of vegetation and downed woody material are important habitats for small mammals, and retaining those habitats can help keep forests resilient.

New Hampshire’s forest product industry has an annual output of nearly 1.4 billion dollars, according to the University of New Hampshire’s Cooperative Extension.

Mara Hoplamazian reports on climate change, energy, and the environment for NHPR.
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