Voles are well-known crop pests, especially when peak populations are present, but their role in soil fertility and impacts on agricultural sustainability are not well understood. Five months after the abrupt disappearance of a peak in a gray-tailed vole (Microtus canicaudus) population, we examined burrow structure, determined concentrations of trace elements, carbon and nitrogen in the soil immediately surrounding vole burrows, and compared soil chemical properties to a depth of 90 cm between areas with prior vole activity and areas of no activity. Vole tunneling activity was confined to the top 10 cm of the soil profile and was coincident with the majority of root biomass. Soil NH4 , NO3-, extractable organic carbon, and soil organic matter were greater below vole tunnels than above; however, due to small sample sizes, differences were not significant. There were no differences in trace elements with respect to position around vole tunnels. Vole activity was associated with increased soil nitrate concentrations and decreased soil pH to a depth of 90 cm, indicating that nitrification might be enhanced by vole activity, and that this effect continues after vole populations crash. Greater inorganic nitrogen could have long-term effects on ecosystem productivity. The effects voles have on soil processes that influence carbon and nutrient cycle requires further investigation.
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Vol. 84 • No. 1