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iWild: For more see iWild.org

Golden Hamster

Yes, It’s Rodent Week! Why Rodent Week, you might ask? Despite being well-mannered and attractive—I once knew a fine fellow named Ralph, who just happened to be a rat—rodents are too-often despised for their prolific nature and a reputation for spreading disease. But in their native ecosystems, rodents play a critical role, serving as a prey base for carnivorous mammals and birds, spreading the seeds of plants far and wide, and aerating and improving soil. A recent study by a team from the University of Tokyo found that rodents promote ecosystem restoration in harsh, arid lands. The researchers asked: “Are small rodents key promoters of ecosystem restoration in harsh environments?” and in a paper published in 2009 in the Journal of Arid Environments, the answer was yes. Mongolian gerbils, the team found, provided a valuable service by removing plant litter and breaking up a crust that formed across the top of degraded agricultural fields, preventing the growth of a native grass species. They concluded that “small rodents are key agents in the recovery of degraded grasslands.” While the Golden (or Syrian) Hamster is commonly kept as a pet and used in medical research, the species is threatened in the wild, listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. Routinely poisoned by farmers (with rodenticide supplied by the Syrian government) and losing habitat to agriculture and development, the golden hamster occupies a shrinking, fragmented range along the border between Syria and Turkey. Should these hamsters become extinct in the wild, their key role as seed dispersers will come to an end, doubtless affecting native plants in the region. According to the IUCN, no conservation measures are in place, and Syria considers the species an agricultural pest.
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