Monocultures: The end of the field hamster?

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A few years ago, the field hamster was still a relatively common sight when walking along field margins. Meanwhile, he has become a rare and if it goes to the French researchers at the University of Strasbourg, then we will soon see him no more face. According to researcher Mathilde Tissier, the reason for this is the wheat and maize monocultures in Western Europe.

Corn monoculture

The maize monoculture: no shrubs and hedges, but only maize for hundreds of meters, and after harvesting an inhospitable fallow, which barely provides food

The consequences of corn monoculture for the field hamster

For the researchers, there were two research priorities for the decline of the hamster population: the monotonous diet by the monoculture itself and the almost complete absence of food after the harvest. In order to obtain meaningful results on reproduction, especially hamster females were placed directly after their hibernation in a study environment in which simulated the conditions on the fields to be tested and the ladies were then mated. There were two main test groups, one fed corn and the other wheat.

The results are frightening. While the wheat group behaved almost normally, the young animals built a warming nest and proper brood care operated here, the behavior of the corn group tipped. "The hamster females placed the cubs on their accumulated pile of corn kernels and then ate them up," says Tissier. Overall, about 80 percent of the pups whose mothers were fed with wheat survived, but only 12 percent from the corn group. "These observations suggest that maternal behavior is suppressed in these animals and that instead they mistakenly perceive their offspring as food," the researchers said. Even among the juveniles, the corn diet leads to cannibalistic behavior, which is why some of the surviving juveniles have killed each other.

Field hamster in the corn field

If you see the cute little animals like that, you have no idea how the diet can change their behavior

Cause research for the behavioral disorders

The research team around Tissier then went in search of the trigger of the behavioral disorders. First, the focus was on nutrient deficiency. However, this assumption could be cleared up quickly, since corn and wheat have almost identical nutrient values. The problem had to be found in the contained or missing trace elements. Here, the scientists were then also find. It appears that corn has a very low level of vitamin B3, also known as niacin, and its precursor tryptophan. A resulting shortage of nutrition has long been known to nutritionists. It leads to skin changes, massive indigestion, up to changes in the psyche. This combination of symptoms is also known as pellagra and led to around three million dead people in Europe and North America until the 1940s, who were proven to feed mainly on corn. "The lack of tryptophan and vitamin B3 is also associated with increased homicides, suicides and cannibalism in humans," Tissier says. The assumption that the behavior of the hamsters is due to pellagra was therefore obvious.

The evidence: administer vitamin B3

To prove that the researchers are correct in their assumption, they conducted a second series of investigations. The experimental setup was identical to the first one, with the exception that the hamsters were given additional vitamin B3 in the form of clover and earthworms. In addition, niacin powder was mixed in the feed in one part of the experimental group. The result was as expected: The females and their young, which were also supplied with vitamin B3, behaved completely normal and the survival rate rose by a whopping 85 percent. Thus, it was clear that the lack of vitamin B3 due to the one-sided diet in monoculture and the associated use of pesticides for the disturbed behavior and the decline of the rodent population are guilty.

Dead field hamster

In order to avoid such a sight, agriculture needs to be re-thought and more emphasis must be placed on mixed crops!

outlook into the future

According to Mathilde Tissier and her team, the hamster stocks in Europe are at great risk, if not countered. The majority of the known stocks are surrounded by maize monocultures, which are seven times larger than the maximum feed collection radius of the animals. Thus, they are unable to find adequate food, which sets in motion the vicious cycle of pellagra and shrinks the populations. In France, the stock of small rodents has declined in recent years by a full 94 percent.A frightening number that requires urgent action.
Tissier: "It is therefore urgent to reintroduce greater plant diversity into agricultural cropping plans to ensure that field animals have access to a sufficiently diverse diet."

Video Board: Valorie Thomas, February 18, 2015.

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