There are probably a few things that come to mind when you think of farmers. To include a few: overalls, straw hats, tanned forearms; Bonds of hay, tractors and seeds. They are all very farmer friendly. What about fur, whiskers, and big front teeth? Mostly not.
But in paper Published Monday, the researchers said that maybe, maybe, maybe, maybe, maybe, the southeastern pocket gopher, a small burrowing rodent famous in many communities as a pest, can be considered a primitive type of farmers. By digging long underground tunnels that promote plant growth and allow roots to be bitten off fairly easily, these hollows would be, as the paper put it, “the first non-human mammal to be cultured.”
“Because they provide and cultivate this optimal environment for growth – that’s what we think makes them growers,” said Veronica Selden, who received her bachelor’s degree in May from the University of Florida and led the research.
“Agriculture is just another component of the natural history of the pocket gopher,” said Francis E. Potz, a biologist at the University of Florida and co-author of the research paper.
Species throughout the animal kingdom are involved in agricultural behaviour. One of the most advanced is mushroom harvesting ants And the beetles To weed, water, protect and grow crops. But the answer to this eternal question – are they farmers? – It can be tough.
Nizahualcoyotl Zeuhtutli, general coordinator of the Florida Farm Workers Association, an organization that advocates for farmworker communities in rural Florida. “We make a distinction between farmers and farm workers,” he added. “Farmers can make the decisions themselves.”
Free will probably cannot be attributed to the pocket gopher. So, farmers are not in that sense.
“In terms of qualifications, being a farmer is kind of a vague term,” said Kate Downs, director of communications for New York FarmNet, an organization that consults with state farmers. “We don’t have a hard and fast rule: If you identify yourself as a farmer, we will work with you.”
Pocket gophers are not known as farmers, so they are not farmers in that sense either.
When I posed with the question, the Florida Bureau of Agriculture directed me to its guide on Legal exemptions and transport laws for agriculture. The first page of the document reads ‘Agriculture’ means the science and art of producing plants and animals useful to man.
Are pocket gophers human? number? They are not farmers.
How are the Jeep Gopher farmers, then? Dr. Putz and Mrs. Selden present a two-part argument.
First, pocket gophers, who live in isolation and spend most of their time underground, promote plant and root growth by digging tunnels. By digging, rodents circulate the air under the plants, which leads to an increase in oxygen in the soil. This activity helps the roots absorb more nutrients. The researchers also found that gophers scatter their waste through their tunnels, which may help fertilize the soil.
Second, all that time a pocket gopher spends underground is tiring. Digging three feet down takes thousands of times more energy than it does to walk the same distance. Dr. Potz and Mrs. Selden wondered where all this energy came from.
By isolating a number of active tunneling systems, they found that the same digging activities that promoted plant growth allowed roots to grow directly into the open air of moist tunnels. Gophers regularly ate the mature roots, which can provide more than 20 percent of the animals’ daily caloric needs and make up for some of the energy lost in the digging process.
The researchers also suggest that some particularly dense root systems could provide remaining sustenance for animals. “I think one of the reasons they have these huge tunnels is because there are some places in these systems that produce a lot of food,” Dr. Putz said.
JT Pynne, a biologist with the Georgia Wildlife Federation who specializes in the study of southeastern pocket gophers, said of tunneling, “I think if we de-define agriculture, we could call it agriculture, but you’d have to apply that across the entire spectrum of herbivores.”
Dr. Bean notes that the animal makes “better soil” through its tunnels, and that it “designs its surroundings to make its habitat better for itself,” but in the end, its behavior isn’t intentional enough to be a farmer. said Dr. Payne, who discovered that gophers Glow under ultraviolet light.
The paper’s authors argue that “farmer” is a somewhat artificial concept. Neither of them seemed to want to pick that hill to die on. “We were just thinking that the way they planted the roots in the tunnels was enough to count them as farmers,” said Ms. Selden.
What was even more important to them was learning another strange fact about how these animals fit into their ecosystem. “If you just type the word ‘jeep gopher’ online, most of the entries are about how to kill them,” Dr. Putz said. “I think the first step in caring for nature is knowing something about it.”
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