The Role of Mice in the Ecosystem
As much as we dislike them, it is important to know the role of mice in the ecosystem.
Why People Hate Mice
If you see a mouse in your home, it’s only a matter of time before you find items such as your sofa and clothes with large holes. Thanks to the sharp teeth which the rodent uses to chew, they are so strong as they can tear the coatings of electric cables. This puts your home at risk of fire outburst due to short-circuiting.
Besides, mice are notorious for contaminating human food with their feces and urine. Since rats share some biological similarities with humans, they are likely to transmit their diseases to people through their excreta. Some of the diseases carried and transmitted by rodents to people include:
- Bubonic plague
- Swine dysentery
The majority of mice also carry deer ticks which carry and transmit Lyme disease to both humans as well as animals. A recent study shows that some mice are carriers of the mammary tumor virus (MMTV), a pathogen that’s suspected to cause breast cancer in people. However, the relationship between the virus and the disease is still under investigation for confirmation.
Although some people do keep mice as pets, the majority don’t like these pesky rodents anywhere near them. From the use of poisonous pesticides and traps to the rearing of cats and dogs, people deploy various tactics to ensure that these rodents don’t enjoy the comfort of their homes.
After reading all of this, it’s easy to assume that mice are just no good at all. But is that true? We will look into that shortly.
What Is The Role of Mice In The Ecosystem?
We have looked at the many negatives associated with mice, but now let’s see how they benefit the environment.
The truth is that mice in the ecosystem are important to almost every ecosystem.
They are important for well-balanced ecosystems in a variety of ways including:
They are food to other animals
If you glance at an ecological pyramid showing the distribution of biomass in ecosystems you will notice that plants appear at the bottom of the pyramid. Herbivorous are placed above plants while omnivores, first order carnivores, and top carnivores occupy the second topmost and topmost levels of the pyramid, respectively.
Mice are omnivores meaning that they can eat plant products as well as food from originating animals. Therefore, the survival of carnivores depends on the availability of omnivorous such as mice. From forests to fields to deserts, mice are food to carnivores of all size ranging from hawks, owls, shrews, bobcats, and skunks to first order carnivores such as snakes and weasels. Some birds, reptiles, amphibians, and some mammals also prey on mice.
Did we mention humans as predators of mice? In China, among other numerous parts of the world, mice are a delicacy. Yes, you read correctly! Some people would do anything to have a bite of a well-cooked mouse.
According to biologists, mice that live in tropical forests play a significant role in the dispersion of wild seeds. With favorable conditions, these seeds later germinate and grow into new trees. This contributes to denser vegetation covers.
The mice scatter-hoard seeds and build large seed caches to consume them later. It’s especially important during the cold winter months. However, they mostly don’t exhaust the reserves, and the seeds end up germinating.
A similar occurrence happens in or near human dwelling places. When mice invade your home, they ‘steal’ some seeds and cereals and hide them somewhere else for future consumption. Nevertheless, they may not feed on the reserves entirely. After staying uneaten for long periods the seeds and cereals are likely to germinate and grow to important crops. Especially if they are in a garden.
Aerate the soil
Some rodents including mice dig burrows and tunnels under the ground for hiding when they are not hunting. It is in these burrows and tunnels that they hide some food for later consumption, and they hibernate there during the winter season. However, other underground species occupy the tunnels when mice vacate them.
Also, the tunnel-digging behavior of mice helps in the aeration of the soil. When they are being dug, the soil is turned over and in the process the top layer consisting of organic matter and the deep layers mix.
As a result of mice digging the soil is fertilized and carbon, which is important for the growth of plants, is buried for better absorption by plant roots.
Water penetrates deep into the soil through the tunnels instead of remaining on the ground surface. The infiltrating water transfer oxygen through sediment layers. The soil is aerated in the process and in that state it encourages the growth of plants’ roots.
Plants soil fungi while the fungi help plants to germinate and grow. Fungi supply nutrients to plants. In fact, some plants such as orchids must be attached to fungi for them to germinate. In return, plants offer fungus the energy they require for proper growth and reproduction.
Mice are very important agents in the mutually beneficial relationship between the organisms and the plants. They gather and store mushrooms, and as a result, lead to the distribution of the spores in their scatter. Eventually, a new healthy forest emerges from this process.
Helpful in scientific tests
Mice have genetic, biological and behavioral characteristics that are almost similar to humans. Numerous human condition symptoms can be replicated in mice.
Due to the similarity between mice and humans, mice are often used in medical testing by scientists in their pursuit of cures for various illnesses.
Drugs have to be tested before human use, and since it is unacceptable for the testing to be done on people, mice are used instead. Some medications that have been found effective in the treatment of ailing mice have been licensed for use in humans.
It is evident that mice in the ecosystem are important in our ecologies. In as much as we may dislike them, it is time we applaud them for some of their contributions. However, you must remember the risks they pose to you when they invade your dwelling. Therefore, although mice in the ecosystem play a significant role, you should not let them live too close to you.***
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