Fire Effects Information System (FEIS)
FEIS Home Page

Index of Species Information

WILDLIFE SPECIES:  Myodes rutilus


WILDLIFE SPECIES: Myodes rutilus
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION : Tesky, Julie L. 1994. Myodes rutilus. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: [].
ABBREVIATION : MYRU COMMON NAMES : northern red-backed vole tundra vole TAXONOMY : The currently accepted scientific name for the northern red-backed vole is Myodes rutilus (Pallas). It is in the family Cricetidae [26]. ORDER : Rodentia CLASS : Mammal FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS : No special status OTHER STATUS : NO-ENTRY


WILDLIFE SPECIES: Myodes rutilus
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION : The northern red-backed vole is a holarctic species distributed from northern Scandinavia across the Russian Republics and, in North America, from Alaska to the Hudson Bay [1].  The specific ranges of the subspecies are not described in the literature. ECOSYSTEMS : FRES11 Spruce-fir FRES19 Aspen-birch FRES23 Fir-spruce STATES :
BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS : NO-ENTRY KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS :    K093  Great Lakes spruce - fir forest    K094  Conifer bog SAF COVER TYPES :     12  Black spruce     16  Aspen     18  Paper birch    107  White spruce    201  White spruce    202  White spruce - paper birch    204  Black spruce    251  White spruce - aspen    253  Black spruce - white spruce    254  Black spruce -  paper birch SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES : NO-ENTRY PLANT COMMUNITIES : Northern red-backed voles live in a variety of northern forest and shrubland habitats [1,6].  They occur in every major forest type in central Alaska [21].  Plant species commonly found in areas occupied by northern red-backed voles include black spruce (Picea mariana), white spruce (P. glauca), quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides), paper birch (Betula papyrifera), alder (Alnus spp.), willow (Salix spp.), mountain cranberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea), blueberry and bilberry (Vaccinium spp.), bunchberry (Cornus canadensis), and a variety of grasses and forbs.  Important fungi, mosses and lichens include truffle (Endogone fascilulata), Schreber's moss (Pleurozium schreberi), mountain fern moss (Hylocomium splendens), sphagnum (Sphagnum spp.), and lichens (Cladonia and Peltigera spp.) [2,21]. REFERENCES : NO-ENTRY


WILDLIFE SPECIES: Myodes rutilus
TIMING OF MAJOR LIFE HISTORY EVENTS : Breeding season - The breeding season of northern red-backed voles generally extends from May to August.  Females are polyestrous and produce two or three litters during the breeding season.  The first litter is produced in late May or early June [1]. Litter size - Information regarding the gestation period of northern red-backed voles was not available.  Litter size ranges from four to nine.  The average litter size is 5.93 [1]. Growth of young and sexual maturity - Young northern red-backed voles are unable to regulate their temperature successfully until about 18 days.  At this time they are weaned and leave the nest.  Young grow little during the winter because of low food supplies.  Age of sexual maturity depends to some extent on time of birth.  About 20 percent of females from the first litter breed during the summer of birth.  The remaining 80 percent, and later litters, breed the following May [1]. Martell and Fuller [12] found that the onset of summer breeding was related to the time of snowmelt.  A late spring was followed by a low rate of maturation of young-of-the-year females [12]. In dense populations of northern red-backed voles, sexual maturation of young females may be delayed, or they may migrate to a vacant breeding space [8].  Information was not available regarding sexual maturation of male northern red-backed voles. Behavior - Northern red-backed voles are mainly nocturnal and crepuscular but are of necessity about during the prolonged arctic daylight season [1]. PREFERRED HABITAT : Northern red-backed voles are commonly found in northern shrub vegetation or open taiga forests.  They also inhabit tundra [1,12,21]. Northern red-backed voles are abundant on early successional sites as well as in mature forests [21].  They occasionally inhabit rock fields and talus slopes [1]. Northern red-backed voles use surface runways through the vegetation as travel corridors.  Nests are built in short underground burrows or under some protective object such as a rock or root [1].  Northern red-backed voles are active all winter and construct long tunnels under the snow. Winter nests typically are placed on the ground among thick moss [1,21]. Northern red-backed voles frequently invade houses during the winter [1]. COVER REQUIREMENTS : Northern red-backed voles inhabit areas that contain dense ground cover for protection from weather and predation [19,21].  On the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in south-central Alaska, the presence of northern red-backed voles was positively correlated with protective cover [2].  During the winter, northern red-backed voles use layers of thick moss or matted vegetation as thermal cover [20,21].  During the mid-winter months in a spruce forest of central Alaska, all northern red-backed voles on a control area aggregated in a small area of thick moss cover, despite abundant food resources elsewhere on the trapping grid [21]. FOOD HABITS : Northern red-backed voles eat the leaves, buds, twigs and berries of numerous shrubs; they also eat forbs, fungi, mosses, lichens, and occasionally insects [1,2,21].  Berries are generally the major food item in the diet of northern red-backed voles and are eaten whenever available.  In central Alaska, West [21] found that northern red-backed voles relied heavily upon the fruits of several berry-producing plants during all seasons.  These included bog blueberry (Vaccinium uliginosum), mountain cranberry, black crowberry (Empetrum nigrum), comandra (Comandra livida), and bunchberry.  Northern red-backed voles primarily ate berries during the fall and winter.  Lichens were consumed only during the winter and spring.  In early summer, when berries are not available, mosses (unspecified spp.) were eaten.  The mid- to late summer diet of northern red-backed voles also included a large proportion of mosses, although berries were still the primary food [21]. Northern red-backed voles on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge fed during the summer on berries of species such as mountain cranberry and bunchberry.  They also ate fungi, succulent green plants, and insects. As fungi became plentiful late in the summer, they made up a large percentage of the diet.  Mountain cranberry consumption declined as the summer progressed even though berry abundance increased.  This suggests that fungi were preferred over mountain cranberries.  The amount of truffle in the diet remained constant throughout the summer [2]. PREDATORS : Some predators of northern red-backed voles include American marten (Martes americana), Arctic fox (Alopex lagopus), red fox (Vulpes vulpes), short-tail weasel (Mustela erminea), coyote (Canis latrans) [15,19,24], and probably most other predators of small mammals that occur within the range of northern red-backed voles.  In Alaska, northern red-backed voles and voles (Microtus spp.) comprised 74 percent of the diet of American martens in the summer and 68 percent of the diet during the winter [24]. MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS : Small mammals are the primary means by which hypogeous fungal spores are dispersed.  The extensive use of hypogeous fungi, such as truffle, by northern red-backed voles promotes the establishment of symbiosis between mycorrhizal fungi and higher plants in disturbed forest areas on the Kenai Peninsula of Alaska [2]. REFERENCES : NO-ENTRY


WILDLIFE SPECIES: Myodes rutilus
DIRECT FIRE EFFECTS ON ANIMALS : Dead northern red-backed voles have been found in the ashes immediately after a summer fire on the Kenai National Moose Range in south-central Alaska [25].  In Alberta, a 640 acre (259 ha) area of mixed spruce and quaking aspen was searched after a severe wildfire, and three dead voles (Clethrionomys spp.) were found [3].  Bendell [3] stated that many fires burn unevenly and refugia are often available for some birds and mammals. HABITAT RELATED FIRE EFFECTS : Fire may result in a temporary loss of cover and food for northern red-backed voles and increased exposure to predation [19,21].  However, after cover and food resources recover, northern red-backed voles are able to colonize burned areas.  Fires in black spruce communities of Alaska and northern Canada are commonly lightning caused and tend to be large [11,17].  Fire return intervals average 80 to 200 years [14,17]. Northern red-backed voles are eventually able to inhabit most burned areas in central Alaska [21].  Some berry-producing shrubs, important to northern red-backed voles, often increase in cover and vigor after low severity fire [4]; mountain cranberry may regain prefire densities within 2 to 6 years [16,21].  However, other species recover slowly; black crowberry may not reach prefire densities for 20 to 30 years [10]. Severe, stand-destroying fires that consume the organic layer can kill the roots of many berry-producing shrubs, reducing the potential for sprouting and delaying revegetation [13,17]. In July 1971, a lightning caused fire burned 16,061 acres (6,500 ha) of black spruce forest in the hills between Wickersham Dome and Washington Creek 25 miles (40 km) north of Fairbanks, Alaska.  Establishment of a permanent population of northern red-backed voles on the burned area did not occur until 4 years after the fire.  Northern red-backed voles began to use the burn area starting in July of 1972.  However, prior to the summer of 1975 the use of the burned area by northern red-backed voles was intermittent due to insufficient food and cover for overwintering. No berries were produced in the burn until the summer of 1975, and then berry production was considerably lower than that in the unburned control area.  In the burned area, during winter 1975-1976, the 4-year accumulation of calamagrostis (Calamagrostis spp.) debris may have provided patches of matted vegetation suitable for winter cover. Despite establishment of a resident population in 1975, recruitment was mostly dependent upon immigrant voles, most importantly pregnant females [21]. One year after a fire in south-central Alaska, numbers of northern red-backed voles seemed to be nearly equal inside and outside the burn. The fire left many islands of unburned habitat throughout the burn; much cover was left on the burn area [25]. Following fire in the Mackenzie Delta area of the Northwest Territories, grass-dominated communities usually predominate early succession.  These grass communities are generally unsuitable habitat for northern red-backed voles [19], probably due to lack of food and cover. FIRE USE : NO-ENTRY FIRE REGIMES : Find fire regime information for the plant communities in which this species may occur by entering the species name in the FEIS home page under "Find Fire Regimes". REFERENCES : NO-ENTRY


WILDLIFE SPECIES: Myodes rutilus
REFERENCES :  1.  Banfield, A. W. F. 1974. The mammals of Canada. Toronto, ON:        University of Toronto Press. 438 p.   [21084]    2.  Bangs, Edward E. 1984. Summer food habits of voles,        Clethrionomys rutilus and Microtus pennsylvanicus, on the Kenai        Peninsula, Alaska. Canadian Field-Naturalist. 98: 489-492.  [23792]    3.  Bendell, J. F. 1974. Effects of fire on birds and mammals. In:        Kozlowski, T. T.; Ahlgren, C. E., eds. Fire and ecosystems. New York:        Academic Press: 73-138.  [16447]      4.  Bradshaw, Richard H. W.: Zackrisson, Olle. 1990. A two thousand       year history of a northern Swedish boreal forest stand. Journal of       Vegetation Science. 1(4): 519-528.  [12762]      5.  Eyre, F. H., ed. 1980. Forest cover types of the United States and       Canada. Washington, DC: Society of American Foresters. 148 p.  [905]     6.  Galindo, Carlos; Krebs, Charles J. 1985. Habitat use and       abundance of deer mice: interactions with meadow voles and red-backed       voles. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 63(8): 1870-1879.  [23791]    7.  Garrison, George A.; Bjugstad, Ardell J.; Duncan, Don A.;       Lewis, Mont E.; Smith, Dixie R. 1977. Vegetation and environmental features       of forest and range ecosystems. Agric. Handb. 475. Washington, DC: U.S.       Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. 68 p.  [998]    8.  Gilbert, B. S.; Krebs, C. J.; Talarico, D.; Cichowski, D. B. 1986.       Do Clethrionomys rutilus females suppress maturation of juvenile       females? Journal of Animal Ecology. 55: 543-552.  [23793]    9.  Kuchler, A. W. 1964. Manual to accompany the map of potential       vegetation of the conterminous United States. Special Publication No.       36. New York: American Geographical Society. 77 p.  [1384]  10.  Lutz, H. J. 1956. Ecological effects of forest fires in the interior of        Alaska. Tech. Bull. No. 1133. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of        Agriculture, Forest Service. 121 p.  [7653]  11.  Maikawa, E.; Kershaw, K. A. 1976. Studies on lichen-dominated systems.        XIX. The postfire recovery sequence of black spruce-lichen woodland in        the Abitau Lake region, N.W.T. Canadian Journal of Botany. 54:        2679-2687.  [7225]  12.  Martell, A. M.; Fuller, W. A. 1979. Comparative demography of        Clethrionomys rutilus in taiga and tundra in the low Arctic. Canadian        Journal of Zoology. 57: 2106-2120.  [23794]  13.  Racine, Charles H.; Johnson, Lawrence A.; Viereck, Leslie A. 1987.        Patterns of vegetation recovery after tundra fires in northwestern        Alaska, U.S.A. Arctic and Alpine Research. 19(4): 461-469.  [6114]  14.  Sirois, Luc; Payette, Serge. 1989. Postfire black spruce establishment        in subarctic and boreal Quebec. Canadian Journal of Forestry Research.        19: 1571-1580.  [10110]  15.  Thurber, Joanne M.; Peterson, Rolf O.; Woolington, James D.; Vucetich,        John A. 1992. Coyote coexistence with wolves on the Kenai Peninsula,        Alaska. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 70: 2494-2498.  [21362]  16.  Uggla, Evald. 1959. Ecological effects of fire on north Swedish forests.        [Place of publication unknown]: Almqvist and Wiksells. 18 p.  [9911]  17.  Viereck, L. A. 1983. The effects of fire in black spruce ecosystems of        Alaska and northern Canada. In: Wein, Ross W.; MacLean, David A., eds.        The role of fire in northern circumpolar ecosystems. New York: John        Wiley and Sons Ltd.: 201-220.  [7078]  18.  Viereck, L. A.; Dyrness, C. T. 1979. Ecological effects of the        Wickersham Dome Fire near Fairbanks, Alaska. Gen. Tech. Rep. PNW-90.        Portland, OR: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific        Northwest Forest and Range Experiment Station. 71 p.  [6392]  19.  Wein, R. W. 1975. Vegetation recovery in arctic tundra and forest-tundra        after fire. ALUR Rep. 74-75-62. Ottowa, ON: Department of Indian Affairs        and Northern Development, Arctic Land Use Research Program. 62 p.        [12990]  20.  West, Stephen D. 1977. Midwinter aggregation in the northern red-backed        vole, Clethrionomys rutilus. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 55: 1404-1409.        [23795]  21.  Jones, Eric N. 1990. Effects of forage availability on home range and        population density of Microtus pennsylvanicus. Journal of Mammalogy.        71(3): 382-389.  [23790]  22.  West, Stephen D. 1991. Small mammal communities in the southern        Washington Cascade Range. In: Ruggiero, Leonard F.; Aubry, Keith B.;        Carey, Andrew B.; Huff, Mark H., technical coordinators. Wildlife and        vegetation of unmanaged Douglas-fir forests. Gen. Tech. Rep.        PNW-GTR-285. Portland, OR: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest        Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station: 269-283.  [17318]  23.  Hall, E. Raymond; Kelson, Keith R. 1959. The mammals of North America,        Volume II. New York: The Ronald Press Company. 79 p.  [21460]  24.  Lensink, Calvin J.; Skoog, Ronald O.; Buckley, John L. 1955. Food habits        of marten in interior Alaska and their significance. Journal of Wildlife        Management. 19(3): 364-368.  [26140]  25.  Hakala, John B.; Seemel, Robert K.; Richey, Robert A.; Kurtz, John E.        1971. Fire effects and rehabilitation methods--Swanson-Russian Rivers        fires. In: Slaughter, C. W.; Barney, Richard J.; Hansen, G. M., eds.        Fire in the northern environment--a symposium: Proceedings of a        symposium; 1971 April 13-14; Fairbanks, AK. Portland, OR: U.S.        Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Range and        Experiment Station: 87-99.  [15721] 26. Wilson, Don E.; Reeder, DeeAnn M., eds. 2005. Mammal species of the world: A taxonomic and geographic reference. 3rd ed. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press. Available: [2008, January 10]. [69038]

FEIS Home Page