Ecology (habitat) Flora and Nutrition in the Different Geographical Areas (Part 2 ~ South East Russia)
According to studies from expeditions conducted between 1940's and 1960's (LEONTJEV 1954, NEKIPELOV 1962) showed the Mongolian gerbil thriving in a variety of habitats. It was found once again to be prevalent around human settlements, but more commonly it was found inhabiting the fields and pastures where up to 90 gerbils per hectare were measured. It was also found to be commonplace in the saline areas where up to 15 gerbils per hectare were recorded, and also in the Artemisia steppes where 6 gerbils per hectare had been recorded. The gerbil was also found to thrive in the dry sandy steppe regions where Caragana microphylla and white Artemisia (most likely A. sieversiana) shrubs are the dominant plant species of the area. Also it could be found in steppes where the soil is light and loamy and support wild cereal plants and grass species of different types.
Near the human settlements it was found in the local crop fields, along artificial earthen embankments, along railway tracks, banks of irrigation systems, and along the metalled and unmetalled highways. Its burrows were found around the local rubbish tips and also in and around the earthen buildings.
In southeast Zabaikalie studies it was observed feeding on the abandoned ranges of another local rodent, Microtus brandti (Brandt's Vole), here it was said to feed mainly on the plants Alhagi kirgisorum and Coriospermum duriuscula.* As the vegetation changed with the seasons, so the food sources switched to wild cereals, which doesn't completely satisfy their needs and so it is supplemented with their stored food supplies. Burrow excavations here showed Artemisia and Suaeda shoots, and also Eragrostis Pilosa to be their chosen food source.
The Mongolian gerbils original habitat in Zabaikalie prior to 1939 was along the banks of the brackish water lakes, it wasn't found in the steppe regions of the area. However studies of the region in 1952-3, and 1958 had found their populations had encroached into areas nearer to human settlements, and into the fields overgrown with weeds in the area.
*After searching at length for information on these two species of plants, I could find very little information on them, especially in South-eastern Siberia or specifically around Southern Chita. After correspondence with Oleg Korsun at the Zabaikalye State Pedagogical University, we came up to certain conclusions about the two plants mentioned in the study. There is a comprehensive list of plant species of the Chita region and Central and Eastern Siberia, and there is no mention of Alhagi genus being recorded in it. Alhagi kirgisorum is a central-asian genus and would most likely be found growing in Western and Southern Mongolia and also in peripheral districts of Southern or Western Siberia. This species would more likely be found growing in regions of Kazakhstan, Kirgiztan or another region of Central Asia.
Corispermum duriuscula. Is also unknown in this region, although there are some Corispermum species in Siberia such as C.declinatum, C.sibiricum etc. Again there may have been some confusion with researchers as to what Corispermum species they had actually found; I feel it is more likely that this name was confused with Carex duriuscula, which is found growing in the region.
Located in Southern Chita, the territory being situated next to the border of Mongolia, in the Mongolian- Manchurian Steppe bio geographic region. The area within the reserve has vast steppe landscapes and pine forests on elevations ranging from 598M to 769M above sea level. Within the reserve are the two largest salt-water lakes of Transbaikalia, Barun-Torey and Zun-Torey. The lakes and the wetlands support many species of bird life which nest on their shorelines, and many of these species are endangered. The open spaces of the steppes also attract rare birds of prey including the steppe eagle, golden eagle, and Falcons. It also supports many species of cranes, which are one of the largest and most beautiful bird species in Transbaikalia. Rare mammal species are also found in the reserve, including the Zeren gazelle, Daurian hedgehog, Manul wildcat and the Mongolian Marmot. The plants that grow here are typical steppe species that are able to grow in this harsh landscape, such as Caragana microphylla. Winter temperatures go as low as minus 40 C and summer temperatures can be as high as 40+. Due to these harsh conditions, human populations are low in the reserve and figures in 1994 reported that just 3000 Mongol nomads lived there and maintained their traditional lifestyle within the reserve.
The Mongolian gerbil although uncommon here today can be located on abandoned fields close to the southern shore of Barun-Torey lake, along the state frontier to the west from the lake. The gerbil was also located along roadsides and sandy areas with degraded soils to the north and northeast areas from the Zun-Torey Lake.