Field Guide to Mammals
of Southern California
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Monterey (Santa Lucia) Dusky-Footed Woodrat (Neotoma fuscipes (macrotis) luciana)
Occurrences of this subspecies on the Los Padres National Forest have been recorded at Chew's Ridge, China Camp, Limekiln Creek, and south Chalk Peak along the Santa Lucia Mountains (Hooper 1938). These are old museum records, and no additional information is available for this subspecies on National Forest System lands. Monterey dusky-footed woodrat is common at the Hastings Reserve (Williams and others 1992), just northeast of Los Padres National Forest. Woodrat studies have been ongoing at the Hastings Reserve since the 1930s (Patton pers. comm.). Dr. Motocq (pers. comm.) conducted her focused study of the Santa Lucia or Monterey woodrat Neotoma fuscipes luciana at the Hastings Reservation, north of the Los Padres National Forest in the Carmel Valley. She had four primary study sites, lower Carmel Valley, the Hastings Reservation, near Arroyo Seco campground on the Los Padres National Forest and within Fort Hunter-Liggett. Additional occurrences of Monterey dusky-footed woodrat on lands adjacent to the Los Padres National Forest include Seaside, Monterey, and Fort Ord to the north; San Lucas and San Ardo to the east; and the vicinity of Paso Robles between the northern and southern portions of Los Padres National Forest (Hall 1981).
Hall (1981) recognized 11 subspecies of Neotoma fuscipes. The range of Monterey dusky-footed woodrat is bordered by three other subspecies: N. f. perplexa, N. f. annectens, and N. f. macrotis. Where these ranges adjoin, intergradations occur (Hooper 1938). These four subspecies can be distinguished by cranial characters, glans penes and molecular characters. As reported by Patton (pers. comm.), recent work by Matocq (2002a, 2002b in press) show that the two subspecies groups of Hooper (1938) represent valid, distinct species, each well diagnosed by trenchant morphological (cranial and soft anatomical) characters and gene sequences, that contact one another but do not hybridize along the Estrella River in San Luis Obispo County (populations throughout the entire Santa Lucia Range, from Monterey south to Morro Bay and all populations occurring on National Forest System lands, belong to the subspecies N. f. Luciana). This contact is between the named taxa luciana and bullatior. Of importance to this account, the Santa Lucia woodrat becomes Neotoma macrotis luciana, as true Neotoma fuscipes (including bullatior) becomes restricted to populations in the central inner coast ranges (Diablo, Gavilan, etc.), San Francisco Bay Area, and northern California (Patton pers. comm.).
Dusky-footed woodrats are generally found in dense chaparral, coastal sage-scrub, pinyon-juniper, oak and riparian woodlands, and mixed conifer forest habitats that have a well-developed understory (Carraway and Verts 1991). They seem to favor brushy habitat or woodland with a live oak component. They are highly arboreal, and thick-leaved trees and shrubs are important habitat components (Williams and others 1992). Populations at Hastings Reserve, a few miles north of historic locations on the Los Padres National Forest, appear to prefer drier sites with a high percentage of live oaks and a mixed shrub understory. Overhead branches and downed logs appear to be important structural habitat components for this population (Williams and others 1992). Monterey dusky-footed woodrats at Fort Ord were found in coast live oak woodland and savanna habitat (U.S. Army Corp of Engineers 1993). Dusky-footed woodrats require an abundant supply of downed wood, sticks, bark, and miscellaneous plant materials to build stick houses (nests) for protection, food storage, resting, rearing of young, and social communications (Carraway and Verts 1991). Houses are generally constructed in areas that are dark, moist, and cool, and that provide good cover. This species has been known to build stick houses below rocky bluffs, in trees, on the ground, on north-facing hillsides, and on canyon slopes (Carraway and Verts 1991).
The breeding season of dusky-footed woodrats in the Berkeley Hills, California, extends from February through November (Vestal 1938). At the Hastings Reserve, reproduction occurred year-round, with the fewest pregnancies during December and the most during February. The number of juveniles appearing outside the nest was highest in July and lowest in January and February. Females produced from 1–5 litters per year, with 1–4 young per litter (Williams and others 1992).
This species is primarily nocturnal and active year-round.
Diet and Foraging
Information on the diet of dusky-footed woodrats was obtained from cached food materials (Carraway and Verts 1991). These food materials consisted primarily of plants that were readily available in the habitat surrounding the nest. Individual food caches in the Berkeley Hills, California, averaged 4.5 species of plants, with a range of 3–6 species (Vestal 1938). Most of the diet includes evergreen sclerophyll vegetation high in fiber, tannins, and related polyphenolics (Carraway and Verts 1991).
In California, the density of stick houses ranged from 3–15 per acre (7.4–37.1 per hectare); however, densities in the Berkeley Hills (Vestal 1938) were reported as high as 23 houses per acre (57 houses per hectare). The average home range of individual dusky-footed woodrats supports approximately 1.8 stick houses (Carraway and Verts 1991).
Common predators of dusky-footed woodrats include skunk (Mephitis mephitis), coyote (Canis latrans), foxes, bobcat (Felis rufus), mountain lion (Felis concolor), spotted owl (Strix occidentalis), barn owl (Tyto alba), great horned owl (Bubo virginianus), and red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis).
Carraway L.N.; Verts, B.J. 1991. Neotoma fuscipes. Mammalian Species 386: 1-10. American Society of Mammalogists.
Hall, E.R. 1981. The mammals of North America. 2d ed. 2: 601-1181. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Hooper, E.T. 1938. Geographical variation in woodrats of the species Neotoma fuscipes. University of California Publications in Zoology, 42: 213-245.
Matocq, M.D. 2002a. Phylogeographical structure and regional history of the dusky-footed woodrat, Neotoma fuscipes. Molecular Ecology 11(2): 229-242.
Matocq, M.D. 2002b. Morphological and molecular analysis of a contact zone in the Neotoma fuscipes species complex. Journal of Mammalogy 83(3): 886-883.
U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. 1993. Fort Ord and reuse environmental impact statement. Final. June.?Sacramento District, Sacramento, CA. Technical assistance from Jones & Stokes Associates, Inc., Sacramento, CA.
Vestal, E.H. 1938. Biotic relations of the woodrat (Neotoma fuscipes) in the Berkeley Hills. Journal of Mammalogy 18: 364.
Williams, D.F.; Verner, J.; Sakai, H.F.; Waters, J.R. 1992. General biology of major prey species of the California spotted owl. In: The California spotted owl: A technical assessment of its current status. USDA Forest Service, General Technical Report PSW-133; 207-221.
Information gathered from California DFG - California Interagency Wildlife Task Group