Tuesday, January 19, 2016

LIFE'S A BEACH


When we’re on a beach we don’t think about much except lounging in the sun, listening to the waves crashing against the shore, or perhaps the drink with the little umbrella that we're holding in our hand. The importance of the ecosystem surrounding you may not be on your mind, but this week we’re going to talk about the importance of a little creature that is a part of a beach ecosystem. Ecosystems are everywhere, including the beach.

Before I introduce this week’s special guest, let’s just go over what an ecosystem is. An ecosystem is a biological community of organisms that interact with each other and the environment in which they live. These organisms are important to human life as well. Any particular system may provide people with clean water, air, food, and fuel. Disturbing an ecosystem, or a keystone species occupying an ecosystem, can be disastrous for all life forms within and around the system. 



We have defined keystone species in previous blog posts, but let’s recap. A keystone species is a species on which other species in an ecosystem largely depend. If a keystone species is removed from an ecosystem, the system would drastically change.

Although this week’s guest is not considered a keystone species of its ecosystem, it is nevertheless important within its ecosystem as a food source for owls and snakes. Also, the mouse is an integral part of a thriving dune ecosystem. The mice collect and distribute seeds that help to maintain the dune system. The plants from those seeds grow and are important in stabilizing the dunes. 

So now let's meet the adorable St. Andrew’s Beach Mouse. 



Photo credit: Joel Sartore

The St. Andrew’s Beach Mouse is one of seven subspecies of mice, which make their home along the beaches in Florida and Alabama (Alabama Beach Mouse). Our friend the St. Andrew’s Beach Mouse lives on a twenty-mile stretch of beach on the Florida panhandle. It can grow to a length of 5.5 inches, with a tail of approximately 2 inches. 

Photo credit: USFWS (http://www.fws.gov/southeast/news/2011/11-001.html)

The coloring of beach mice will match the color of their surroundings. These nocturnal mice have large ears and eyes. They live in the dunes along the beach, and are always very busy digging burrows, and eating seeds, and insects. Unlike their cousins, the field mice, they do not seek out human buildings to dwell in. They prefer surf and sand. 

Unfortunately, both the St. Andrew’s Beach Mouse, and the Alabama Beach Mouse are considered endangered. 

Photo credit: USFWS (http://www.fws.gov/southeast/news/2011/11-001.html)

The St. Andrew’s Beach Mouse was declared endangered in 1998 under the U.S. Federal Endangered Species act of 1973. The main threat is both human encroachment and natural occurrences. Continued human coastal development for residential and commercial purposes is taking its toll. However, erosion from natural disasters, such as hurricanes, is also adding to the problem. 


Photo credit: Florida State Park Service

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service has a recovery plan in place for the St. Andrew’s Beach Mouse. The plan includes the following; “restoring dune systems on public lands, investigating and possibly controlling non-native predators, and working with partners to evaluate dune crossovers” (U.S. Fish and Wildlife). To read the plan, click here: http://ecos.fws.gov/docs/recovery_plan/20110104_SABM_recov_plan_FINAL.pdf

Dune Crossover

Let’s hope that the recovery plan will work and that this little U.S. native mouse will continue to inhabit the dunes along the Gulf Coast.

To read more about the St. Andrew’s Beach Mouse, or The Alabama Beach Mouse, visit any or all of the following sites:




To read more about the importance of keystone species, visit the following web page:

Thank you for taking the time to visit, and read this week’s blog. I hope you will return next week.

Enjoy!
Jeanne E. Rogers, Award Winning Author
The Sword of Demelza and The Gift of Sunderland
Middle-Grade Fantasy Where Endangered Animal Heroes Roam the Pages!

















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