GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- The twin menaces of hurricanes and beachfront development appear poised to wipe out Floridas most diminutive coastal native, the beach mouse, according to new research led by a University of Florida scientist.
Scientists at UF and Auburn University have concluded that the few remaining populations of beach mice on the Florida and Alabama coasts are in substantial danger of extinction from hurricanes and continuing loss of habitat to development. In research on four remaining populations including the last known populations of a Perdido Key subspecies -- the researchers predicted the populations have a 37 to 57 percent chance of extinction in 25 years and a 59 to 80 percent chance in 50 years.
Their conclusions already are being born out: Since the research was conducted, one of the Perdido Key populations has gone extinct, although another population of the subspecies has been reintroduced elsewhere on the key.
We asked, What would be the chance that beach mice will persist in the future if we consider the effects of catastrophic events such as hurricanes? said Madan Oli, a UF assistant professor of wildlife ecology and conservation and lead author of a paper on the research that appeared this year in Biological Conservation. Unless we increase our efforts to conserve habitat and take other measures, the answer doesnt look too good.
The beach mouse, Peromyscus polionotus, is small and nocturnal. It ranges in color from nearly white to brown, depending on the color of the surrounding soil. The mice once occurred throughout the coastal regions of Alabama and western Florida, but the spread of commercial and residential development has slashed their numbers and fragmented their populations. Today, only about a dozen small populations remain on the Gulf coast, composed of four endangered subspecies and one not listed as endangered or threatened.