Staple Food Plant Species of the Mongolian Gerbil

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Contents

Grasses

Staple food plants gallery

Plant descriptions and photo credits

Artemisia Species

Artemesia is a large, wide ranging genus of plants which belong to the daisy family (Asteraceae). Many common names are given to these plants including wormwood, mugwort, sagebrush and sagewort. These hardy shrubs grow well in dry or semi-dry habitats, and the fern like leaves of many of these plants are often covered in fine white hairs. Many of these hardy shrubs are native to the ranges of the Mongolian gerbil and are one of their staple food plants. The photos in the gallery (species 2-9 below) taken by Oleg Korsun show several Artemisia species that are found around Chita and the Chitinsky district in Southern Russia which gives you an idea how diverse the plant is as a species. Several of the species photographed are wide ranging and can be also be found throughout areas of Mongolia, and Inner Mongolia as well. A. seiversiana and A. commutata were two of the staple foods mentioned by G.Agren, Q.Zhou and W.Zhong in their 1989 research paper on the ecology and social behaviour of the Mongolian gerbil At Xilin Hot, Inner Mongolia, China.

Other known species of Artemisia present throughout Mongolia include;

A. adamsii, A. anethifolia*, A.commutata, A. macrocephala, A. dolosa, A. pectinata, A. rutifolia*, A. santolinifolia, A. caespitosa, A. laciniata, A. sericea A. gobica.

Many of the above are regarded as edible for livestock, although a few species mentioned haven’t been determined for that purpose. Those marked with * are deemed inedible for cattle or have a high volatile oil content and are beneficial only as a medicinal plant.

Pictures of several species of Artemisia (from 2 to 9 below) were all taken by Oleg Korsun around the vicinity of Chita town and the Chitinsky district in Southern Russia.

Thanks to Al. Schneider for the following photo(s) - Artemisia frigida

Thanks to Oleg Korsun for the following photo(s) - Artemisia dranunculus, Artemisia gmelinii, Artemisia leucophylla, Artemisia mongolica, Artemisia palustris, Artemisia scoparia, Artemisia seiversiana, Artemisia tanacitifolia,

Thanks to Plant Atlas of Dundgovi Aimag for the following photo(s) - Artemisia adamsii, Artemisia macrocephala, Artemisia pectinata

Atriplex Species

Atriplex halimus

 Is a large, tough shrub, that is commonly known as saltbush or sea orach, it is common in areas of high salinity throughout the Mediterranean and it ranges as far as Siberia. In the past it has been regarded as a culinary plant by humans, and as a resource for domestic livestock and wildlife.

Atriplex sibirica

Can be found growing throughout all the areas in Mongolia. Its habitat is widespread and includes Solonchaks* and sandy riverbanks and lake coasts, saline depressions in sands, saline spring side and waterside meadows; it can be a common weed in cultivated fields, abandoned fields, and along irrigation ditches and roads.

Thanks to David.Fenwick for the following photo(s) - Atriplex halimus

Thanks to Micheal Beckmann for the following photo(s) - Atriplex sibirica

*Solonchaks occur where evaporation exceeds rainfall and there is a seasonal or permanent water table close to the soil surface. They have a high saline content in the soil.

Caragana Species

There are several Caragana species throughout the range of the Mongolian gerbil that form part of their staple diet. This drought tolerant legume belonging to the plant family Fabaceae, is a long lived, deciduous, leguminous shrub, which is able to thrive in the harshest of conditions. They have the ability to improve the soil and it’s structure because it has a large root system, with the ability to fix nitrogen, and the leafy litter produced increases the organic matter in the soil. Being a large shrub it provides natural cover for wildlife and encourages the re-establishment of flora on degraded sites. The plant itself has small, fine, grey green leaves with showy yellow flowers being produced in the summer. Its common name is the pea shrub plant.

Caragana microphylla

Commonly called the Littleleaf peashrub plant, it is a deciduous woody perennial that can grow to around a metre high. This particular species was often mentioned in the research expeditions into Southern Russia, and was found in the food chambers of excavated burrows. It is also a common species throughout the Mongolian territories and can be found in Khentei, Khangai, Mongol-Daurian, Great Khingan, Middle Khalkha, East Mongolia, and in the Dundgovi Aimag. In these areas it is found growing on the sandy steppes, steppe areas, stony slopes, Hillocky sand areas and amongst rocks and scree. It grows also in both Chita and Tuva in southern Russia and also in China.

Other Caragana species distributed in the ranges of the Mongolian gerbil are;

C. korshinkskyi - Dornogovi, Sukh Baatar, Umnu-Govi It also grows in China.
C. leucophloea - Arkangai, Bayan-Ulgi, Bayankhongor, Bulgan, Dornogovi, Dundgovi, Govi-Altai, Khovd, Sukh Baatar, Tuv, Umnu-Govi, Uvs, Uvurkhangai, Zavkhan. Also in China , Kasakhstan and Kirgisztan.
C. leucophloea - Arkangai, Bayan-Ulgi, Bayankhongor, Bulgan, Dornogovi, Dundgovi, Govi-Altai, Khovd, Sukh Baatar, Tuv, Umnu-Govi, Uvs, Uvurkhangai, Zavkhan. Also in China , Kasakhstan and Kirgisztan.
C. bungei - Bayan-Ulgi, Bayankhongor, Govi-Altai, Khovd, Khuvsgul, Uvs, Uvurkhangai, Zavkhan This species also grows in Tuva.
C. spinosa - Arkangai, Bayan-Ulgi, Bayankhongor, Govi-Altai, Khenti, Khovd, Khuvsgul, Selenge, Tuv, Umnu-Govi, Uvs, Uvurkhangai, Zavkhan.
C. pygmaea - Arkangai, Bayan-Ulgi, Bayankhongor, Bulgan, Dornod, Dornogovi, Dundgovi, Govi-Altai, Khenti, Khovd, Khuvsgul, Selenge, Sukh Baatar, Tuv, Umnu-Govi, Uvs, Uvurkhangai, Zavkhan It can also be found growing in Tuva. Habitat: Sandy steppes, steppe, stony slopes and the tops of mountains and hills, rocky areas, steppe river valleys and lake terraces.
 

Thanks to Plant Atlas of Dundgovi Aimag for the following photo(s) - Caragana pygmaea

Thanks to Michael Beckmann for the following photo(s) - Caragana leucophloea, Caragana korshinkskyi

Thanks to Oleg Korsun for the following photo(s) - Caragana microphylla

Carex Species

Carex is an extremely large genus of plants comprising up to 2000 species and belong to the family Cyperaceae. It is regarded as a true sedge and species can be found growing all over the world. Many species can be found growing around or in marshes, and are often the dominant species growing there. After corresponding with Oleg Korsun we feel that it is most likely that it was this plant and not Corispermum duriuscula which is mentioned in the paper, Ecology of the desert rodents of the USSR, that formed part of the staple diet in Zabakailie.

Carex duriuscula

Apart from around Southern Russia, Carex duriuscula can be found in Mongolia around Khubsugul,Khentei, Khangai, Mongol-Daurian, Great Khingan, Khobdo, Mongolian Altai, Middle Khalkha, East Mongolia, Depression of Great Lakes, Valley of Lakes, East Gobi, Gobi-Altai and the Dundgobivi Aimag. Its typical habitat includes sandy places, steppes, mountain steppe, river and brook banks, damp meadows, quite often alkaline, and stony debris slopes.

Thanks to Oleg Korsun for the following photo(s) - Carex duriuscula

Chenopodium Species

Chenopodium is a genus comprising of approximately 150 species. Originally these species were placed in the Chenopodiaceae family but are now placed in the family Amaranthaceae. They are commonly known as Goosefoots. The plants themselves had a moderate importance for humans as a food crop, both as a leaf vegetable and as a pseudo cereal.

This species is also wide ranging and mentioned in several of the studies. It was often found in the food chambers of excavated burrows. All the Chenopodium species below were photographed by Oleg Korsun around Chita town & the Chitinsky district.

Thanks to Oleg Korsun for the following photo(s) - Chenopodium album, Chenopodium aristatum, Chenopodium glaucum, Chenapodium hybridum, Chenapodium prostratum, Chenapodium rubrum

Grasses

Several grass species are a part of the Mongolian gerbils desert staple and the three examples below were all found in food chambers of excavated burrows during expeditions.

Setaria viridis

 Is a tall, erect, attractive grass species that branches at its base. Its distribution is widespread along the ranges of the Mongolian gerbil, and was mentioned as a food plant in the Xilin Hot study of Inner Mongolia. It is prolific throughout Mongolia being distributed around Khubsugul, Khentei, Khangai, Mongol Daurian, Mongolian Altai, Khobdo, Valley of Lakes, Depression of Great Lakes, Gobi-Altai, and is widespread In the Dundgovi Aimag. It is regarded as a pasture plant and used for livestock.

Aneurolipideum chinensis (syn. Leymus chinensis)

A creeping grass spreading through rhizomes, which is regarded as a pasture plant for cattle. It can be found in the Steppes, especially sandy, waterside alkaline meadows, around sands and pebble areas, and also around rivers and springs. It is distributed throughout Mongolia and is common in Khubsugul, Khentel, Khangai, Mongol-Daurian, Great Khingan, Middle Khalkha, East Mongolia, Depression of Great Lakes, Valley of Lakes, East Gobi, Gobi-Altai and In the Dundgovi Aimag.

Eragrostis pilosa

A very common annual grass that grows wild in many countries. It has also been cultivated in the past for its seed. The plant prefers sandy, well-drained soils, and grows in full sun.

Thanks to University of North Carolina Wilmington for the following photo(s) - Eragrostis pilosa

Thanks to Terrestrial Environment research Centre ~ Uni. Of Tsukuba for the following photo(s) - Aneurolipideum chinensis (syn.Leymus chinensis)

Thanks to Dan Tenaglia for the following photo(s) - Setaria viridis

Lycium Species

Lycium comprises of a genus of around 90 plants belonging to the Solanaceae family, 10 of which are common to Eurasia. They are perrenial, thorny shrubs, with deciduous leaves of a simple nature. The flowers occur solitary or in small clusters, and the fruit produced is a multi-seeded berry that is either red, yellow, orange, purple or black in colour. In many species such as L. barbarum, L.chinense, and L.halimifolium the plant has been cultivated for their edible fruit, and they are known as Wolfberry plants. In cultivation L.chinense tends to be grown in the south of China and L. barbarum is grown in the north, whereas L.halimifolium is common to Ningxia. These species produce bright red berries. As well as their berries, the leaves and bark have been used in China for well over 2000 years, and often used in traditional Chinese medicine. These “wolfberry” plants are widespread around the Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region, Ningxia Hui autonomous region, Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Gansu, Shaanxi and Shanxi.

For a gerbil the berries would represent an extremely nutritional food source, and contain carbohydrates, proteins, fats and fibre. They also contain phytonutrients such as beta carotene, zeaxanthin, polysaccharides and phenols. Vitamin content is also high as they contain C, B1 & B2, B6, and E. Minerals such as zinc, iron, copper, calcium, germanium, selenium, phosphorous and potassium are also present, as are important amino acids such as isoleucine and tryptophan.

Thanks to Michael Beckmann for the following photo(s) - Lycium ruthenicum

Nitraria Species

Are a relatively small genus of 9 plants belonging to the family Nitariaceae. A globular shrub, which is succulent in nature, with some species being spiny. Young branches are often covered in fine hair. They bear edible fruit and depending on which species can be either purple, red or yellow coloured. Nitraria sibirica can be found in many of the regions in Mongolia such as Mongol-Daurian, Mongolian Altai, Middle Khalkha, East Mongolia, Depression of Great Lakes, Valley of Lakes, East Gobi, Gobi-Altai, Dzungarian Gobi, Trans-Altai Gobi, and Alashan Gobi areas. In the Dundgovi Aimag however its occurrence is rare in eastern and southern areas. Their habitat is on alkaline hillocky sands, and on the periphery of grass stands.

Thanks to Michael Beckmann for the following photo(s) - Flowers & Leaf

Thanks to Oleg Korsun for the following photo(s) - Nitraria sibirica pallas

Salsola Species

Salsola are a large genus of herbs, shrubs, sub shrubs and even small trees in the family Amaranthaceae. Its common names include Saltwort or russian thistle and annual species are often referred to as tumbleweed as the plants separate from the roots in the autumn and are driven by the wind which effectively scatters their seeds far and wide. It can be found to thrive in dry soil and often in saline conditions, with several species being common to saltmarshes. It is regarded as an invasive species in America and thrives anywhere the land has been disturbed. Despite its Russian origins it is associated with the American old west and is a common symbol of many a western movie. The plant would be considered as an important food source for the Mongolian gerbil as both the seeds and shoots of this plant would be edible to them.

S. collina

 Is probably the most common of the salsola species and is distributed throughout all of Mongolia's territories.

S. pestifera

 Is another common variety being distributed in Khentei, Khangai, Mongol-Daurian, Khobdo, Mongolian Altai, Middle Khalkha, East Mongolia, Depression of Great Lakes, Valley of Lakes, East Gobi, Gobi-Altai, Dzungarian Gobi, Trans-Altai Gobi, Alashan Gobi, and in the Dundgovi Aimag.

S. arbuscula

Can be found growing in the deserts and along slopes and is distributed around Mongolia and areas of Inner Mongolia.

S. monoptera

 Distribution: Khangai, Mongolian Altai, Middle Khalkha, Depression of GreatLakes, Valley of Lakes, Gobi-Altai, East Gobi, and also in Dundgovi Aimag.- Habitat: Sandy and sandy-pebble steppe, stony and slushy slopes of mountains and hills.

S. passerina

Can be found growing in the Gobi lakes valley desert steppe, great lakes basin desert steppe, and Eastern Gobi desert steppe.

Salsola abrotanoides

Can be found growing in the Gobi lakes valley desert steppe.

Thanks to Michael Beckmann for the following photo(s) - Salsola arbuscula, Salsola pestifera

Thanks to Oleg Korsun for the following photo(s) - Salsola collina

Thanks to Plant Atlas of Dundgovi Aimag for the following photo(s) - Salsola monoptera

Suaeda Species

Suaeda, a genus of around 100 species in the family Chenopodaceae, comprising of annuals, sub-shrubs and shrubs. Many of the species are regarded as food plants.

S. prostrata

Is an annual plant up to 50 cms tall - areas of Mongolia - habitat - strongly saline/alkaline areas.

S. przewalskii

 An annual plant up to 40cms tall - areas around Mongolia - habitat- in dunes, saline, alkaline bottomlands, and lake shores.

S. corniculata

 An annual plant up to 60cms tall- Distribution: Khubsugul, Khangai, Khobdo, Mongol-Daurian, Mongolian Altai, Middle Khalkha, East Mongolia, Depression of Great Lakes, Gobi-Altai, East Gobi, Trans-Altai Gobi, Dzungarian Gobi, Alashan Gobi, and in southern areas of the dundgovi Aimag. Habitat: Damp, moist and muddy saline lake coasts and riverbanks and sub-saline meadows.

S. microphylla

A sub shrub up to a metre high - Gobi desert- habitat, saline-alkaline deserts, dunes, lake shores.

S. linifolia

An annual upto 70cm tall - Gobi desert, also found in Southern Russia- Habitat- Saline, alkaline desert, dry prairies and wet banks.

S. physophora

A sub shrub upto 80cm tall - Gobi desert- habitat- saline, alkaline slopes and alluvial plains.

S. glauca

An annual up to a metre high - Several areas in Mongolia-Habitat- saline, alkaline soils near beaches, wasteland, canal banks and field margins.

S. altissima

An annual upto a metre high-Gobi desert - wastelands and pool banks.

S. acuminata

An annual upto 50cm tall - Areas around Mongolia- habitat-saline, alkaline desert, slopes and dunes.

S. salsa

An annual upto 80 cms tall - saline/alkaline soils on beaches and on lakeshores.

Thanks to Plant Atlas of Dundgovi Aimag for the following photo(s) - Suaeda corniculata

Thanks to Michael Beckmann for the following photo(s) - Suaeda przewalski, Suaeda prostrata

All photos taken by Oleg Korsun were taken around Chita town, Chitinsky district, Borzinsky district, (Daursky reserve) & the Ononsky District, Nizhny Tsasuchei Village, (Daursky reserve) Zun Torei lake.

All photos taken by Michael Beckmann were taken in the summer of 2004 in the Gobi Gurvan Saikhan National Park in southern Mongolia. The altitude of the location was approximately 2100m

Article By Eddie Cope

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