The volcanic mouse was considered extinct after the eruption, but turned out to be alive

Scientists have returned to the region where one of the most devastating volcanic eruptions occurred to examine the surviving populations of mammals. SciTechDaily reports that researchers have announced the rediscovery of a species of mice believed to be extinct.

In June 1991, the Pinatubo volcano on the Philippine island of Luzon literally exploded. It was the second most violent volcanic eruption of the 20th century, and it was ten times stronger than St. Helens (the strongest eruption in US history), and its consequences were equally devastating. Lava and ash erupted throughout the Zambales mountains, gathering in layers up to 181 meters thick in the valleys.

After the eruption, powerful typhoons and monsoon rains caused landslides and ash flows that continued for many months. Eight hundred people died, and the dense forests that covered the mountain before the eruption were practically destroyed.

“When Pinatubo exploded, probably the last thing anyone thought was that the little mouse species only lived on this mountain, and it should have gone extinct.”

Larry Heaney, curator of the mammals department at the Chicago Field Museum.

In 2011-2012, 20 years after the eruption, researchers traveled to Pinatubo to study the mammals living there. For several months, scientists examined mammals around the volcano and on it.

Conditions on Pinatubo are very harsh. Even after 20 years, evidence of the eruption was everywhere. The landscape is highly unstable due to the constantly eroding deposits of ash and lahara (mudflow on the slopes of a volcano, consisting of a mixture of water and volcanic ash, pumice and rocks), which made work on the steep slopes dangerous. It also greatly slowed down the process of plant succession (a consistent regular change from one biological community to another). The vegetation consisted of a rare mix of native and non-native plants, dense thickets of grass (including bamboo), shrubs, dwarf vines, and a small number of trees, all typical of the early secondary growth habitat. It was far from the ancient rainforest that covered the mountain before the eruption.

The researchers not only looked at the fauna and flora of the volcano, but were looking for Apomys sacobianus – the Pinatubo volcanic mouse. Scientists worried that she no longer exists, because she lived only on this mountain.

“We have known for some time that many small mammals in the Philippines can tolerate habitat disturbance, both natural and human-induced. But most of them are geographically widespread species, not native endemic ones, which are considered by environmental biologists as highly vulnerable to any interference.”

Larry Heaney, curator of the mammals department at the Chicago Field Museum.

However, Pinatubo’s research yielded very surprising results – a total of 17 species were documented, including eight bats, seven rodents (five native and two non-native species), and even two large mammals (feral pigs and deer). Despite the fact that all surveyed areas had sparse, bushy secondary vegetation rather than the forest, native rodents were abundant throughout.

The most amazing thing is that the most numerous species was the small volcanic mouse Apomys sacobianus. Not only was this species not destroyed by the eruption, but it thrived in this highly disturbed landscape along with other native species that are also highly resistant to disturbance.

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Alexandr Ivanov earned his Licentiate Engineer in Systems and Computer Engineering from the Free International University of Moldova. Since 2013, Alexandr has been working as a freelance web programmer.
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Alexandr Ivanov

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