Tardigrades live in many ecosystems, but local dispersal mechanisms and the influence of ecological gradients on tardigrade communities are not fully understood. Here we examine tardigrade communities in nests of the red tree vole (Arborimus longicaudus True), an arboreal mammal occupying the canopy of coniferous forests in western Oregon and northwestern California. We found 12 species of tardigrades from resin ducts sampled from 43 nests along a transect that spanned the east-west range of the red tree vole in southern Oregon. Tardigrade occurrence was more likely in larger trees and species numbers were significantly higher in areas that received more precipitation. At sites where they occurred, tardigrades were more abundant in red tree vole nests at greater heights within the forest canopy. Of the 12 species of tardigrades that were found, seven have not been previously reported in Oregon. Our results suggest that tardigrades in forest canopies in the Pacific Northwest are affected by regional precipitation gradients as well as local environmental variables, and that nest building by small mammals may facilitate dispersal of tardigrades within the forest canopy.
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Vol. 94 • No. 1