RC Passage: Wildlife Ecosystem

  
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Grassland songbirds often nest in the same grassland-wetland complexes as waterfowl, particularly in a certain part of those complexes, namely, upland habitats surrounding wetlands. Although some wildlife management procedures directed at waterfowl, such as habitat enhancement or restoration, may also benefit songbirds, the impact of others, especially the control of waterfowl predators, remains difficult to predict. For example, most predators of waterfowl nests prey opportunistically on songbird nests, and removing these predators could directly increase songbird nesting success. Alternatively, small mammals such as mice and ground squirrels are important in the diet of many waterfowl-nest predators and can themselves be important predators of songbird nets. Thus. Removing waterfowl-nest predators could affect songbird nesting success through subsequent increases in small-mammal populations.


In 1995 and 1996, researchers trapped and removed certain waterfowl-nest predators, primary raccoons and striped skunks, then observed subsequent survival rates for songbird nests. Surprisingly. They observed no significant effect on songbird nesting success. This may be due to several factors. Neither raccoons nor striped skunks consume ground squirrels, which are important predators of songbird nests. Thus, their removal may not have led to significant increases in populations of smaller predators. Additionally, both raccoons and striped skunks prefer wetlands and spend little time in upland habitats; removing these species may not have increased the nesting success of songbirds in the uplands enough to allow detection.

According to the passage, which of the following is true about the role played by ground squirrels in the ecology of grassland-wetland complexes?
(A)
While not important in the diet of raccoons or striped skunks, ground squirrels are a significant source of food for other waterfowl-nest predators.
(B)
Whereas ground squirrels are typically important as predators of songbird nests, their opportunistic predation on waterfowl nests also has an observable effect on waterfowl nesting success.
(C)
Although most waterfowl-nest predators prey on small mammals such as mice and ground squirrels, populations of ground squirrels tend to increase quickly enough to compensate for this level of predation.
(D)
Although ground squirrels have been known to prey on songbird nests, a larger portion of their diets is usually provided by predation on waterfowl nests.
(E)
Since larger predators tend to prefer small mammals to songbird eggs as a food source, a large population of ground squirrels plays an important role in controlling opportunistic predation on songbird nests.
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