Winter 2014

Join Professor Nolfo-Clements for an island tour

Survival of the Smallest

Suffolk bio Professor discovers the mouse that roars

For fans of the classic film The Princess Bride, rodents of unusual size may seem the stuff of cinematic fantasy, but Dr. Lauren Nolfo-Clements knows such creatures do exist. For several years, the Suffolk assistant professor of biology has been researching Boston’s Harbor Islands, and has found unexpected populations of deer, foxes, coyotes, and, yes, larger-than-average mice thriving on nearly three dozen islands and peninsulas. Many of these animals are migrating to the islands, and Nolfo-Clements says that since these areas don’t have much human occupation, they’re “reverting back to a natural system,” allowing wildlife to prosper. Shortly after arriving at Suffolk in 2007, Nolfo-Clements got in touch with National Park Service officials to start research on the islands. She discovered that, aside from an informal survey, there was nothing systematic or extensive.

And about those oversized rodents—generally, they are white-footed mice that weigh 30-35 grams as opposed to the mainland varieties that tip the scales at 15-25 grams. Unlike the deer that swim to the islands or coyotes that scamper across the ice when it freezes, the mice, which are not strong swimmers, have likely been trapped out there for a much longer period. Nolfo-Clements says “small things trapped on an island tend to get larger, while big things get smaller, because most islands don’t have the resources to support them, so only the small survive.”

The Boston Globe covered Nolfo-Clements' research in an August 2013 article.

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