Southern Agenda

Rodent Revival

Karen Powers has a soft spot for Allegheny woodrats. “I love working with these adorable rodents,” says Powers, a wildlife ecologist at Radford University in Virginia. “When we find their caches, they’ve taken anything colorful or shiny, from flags to coozies to handkerchiefs to people’s keys—they’re so curious.” The squirrel-sized, round-eared rodents live in rocky areas and caves in deciduous forests, and last summer researchers trapped five in Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. “It was an exciting discovery,” Powers says. “They are facing a triple threat from habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, and a roundworm, and we thought they hadn’t been able to survive there.” Allegheny woodrats still have a stronghold in Virginia, but with plummeting numbers elsewhere, including in West Virginia, attendees at a recent woodrat symposium hatched a plan for two zoos to start captive breeding. This summer, Powers and her partners will be out trapping and taking ear clippings for genetic analysis, looking for healthy, diverse candidates.