Lynda Lafond

Date of Award

January 2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Kathryn Yurkonis


I studied grassland small mammal community ecology at UND’s Oakville Prairie, in Grand Forks County, North Dakota summers 2018-2021. Specifically, I was interested in small mammal richness and abundance, investigating their habitat associations, investigating their phenotypic variation, and understanding their diets. I trapped small mammals for five consecutive nights at the end of June to early July 2018 – 2021. I also measured plant community composition and structure metrics. Over the four years, I captured 985 individuals from 11 species. Species richness and abundance varied spatially and temporally across the site. I most frequently captured meadow voles (Microtus pennsylvanicus), mice (Peromyscus spp.), meadow jumping mice (Zapus hudsonius), and masked shrews (Sorex cinereus). M. pennsylvanicus and Z. hudsonious were associated with increased height and density plant structure. Peromyscus spp. was associated with litter depth while S. cinereus was associated with increased height and density of plant structure and total grass cover. During my trapping efforts, I captured three M. pennsylvanicus and one deer mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus), which were melanistic (e.g., black pelage). Observations of melanism of these species in wild populations is rare and mine were the first recoded in the state of North Dakota for both species. Finally, I compared small mammal omnivore and insectivore diets using a metagenomic approach to amplify nuclear, chloroplast, and mitochondrial DNA within the stomachs of 95 collected individuals. From this DNA sequencing, I document 823 unique diet sequences the majority of which matched to the insect orders of Lepidoptera, Diptera, and Coleoptera. Of the identified diet sequences, only seven sequences were found in the diets of all six small mammal species. This could indicate these organisms are a fundamental staple in northern small mammal diets. I also found low similarity of diet sequences among individuals within a small mammal species. This suggests small mammals are opportunistically foraging and are not persnickety when it comes to diet. As grasslands continue to experience pressure from climate change and loss of connectivity, my research adds to the understanding of how small mammals may adapts to grassland change.