Roles and influences of animals

4.5.1 Masting and reproduction of the edible dormouse

Long-term studies of this alien species (see Section 9.3.4) have been made in the Chilterns of southern England by Morris (1997) and colleagues. This animal, together with its fellow alien the grey squirrel, consumes so many beech nuts that it may compromise normal methods of counting beech nut production. While the grey squirrel eats nuts on the ground, the edible dormouse Glis glis normally feeds on those in the tree. Interestingly, reproductive success in this animal, at least in the beech-spruce-larch woodlands near Tring, Hertfordshire, appears to be closely related to masting success in beech. In mast years the edible dormouse breeds well in this area, but if viable mast is not formed in the following year no, or very few, young occur. This corresponds with similar reports from continental Europe. Most recently there was a very great production of young edible dormice in the mast year 2002. In the following non-mast year there were very few, with another exceptionally good year in the mast year of 2004.

The patterns involved can best be illustrated by quoting from the records of juveniles weighing more than 100 g found in nest boxes kept at Hockeridge Wood in the Chiltern woodlands (Morris, pers. comm.). He used a mast grading scale running from 0-5. The number of juveniles present in September of the 7 years running from 1998 to 2004 were 1 (0), 137 (4), 167 (5), 1 (0), 323 (5), 7 (0), 319 (4) respectively, the figures in parentheses indicating the local mast grading for the year concerned. The connection between masting success in beech and breeding success in the edible dormouse is one of which the traditional dormouse hunters of Croatia and Slovenia were well aware. We have yet to pin down the key factor that leads these animals to have their young in the August of mast years, well before the nuts are properly developed.

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