Survival of the Least Fit: Incidence of Physical Trauma in a Wild Mammal Community

Science Center Objects

The Challenge: It has been generally considered that a severe injury to a wild mammal that seemingly limits its ability to forage for food or escape predators will almost certainly lead to that individual’s demise.  Inspection of skeletons of wild caught small mammals, however, has revealed a surprising number of individuals with healed fractures of the skeletal bones―including the primary supporting bones of the limbs―that indicate survival of these animals well beyond the date of the injury.

The Science: Ongoing  research with colleagues at the University of New Hampshire is documenting the incidence, location, type, extent, and severity of injuries within a multi-species community of small mammals from New Hampshire. Compilation and analysis of these data will provide evidence of similarities and differences in injuries among species and will help sort out injuries from different causes, such as injuries resulting from predators, from intraspecific aggression, from accidental mishaps.

The Future: Results from this project will assist in understanding interspecific and intraspecific interactions, survival rates, and other life history factors inherent to populations of mammals that are near the base of the food web.