We used molar measurements from 136 known-age red tree voles (Arborimus longicaudus) to develop regression models that could estimate tree vole age from skeletonized remains. The best regression included a quadratic structure of the ratio between two measurements, crown height and anterior height, and natural log-transformed age in days. The regression predicted that molar roots begin to develop at 40 days of age and that molar crowns are worn completely away at 1,177 days of age. We used the regression to estimate the age distribution of 1,703 red tree voles found in northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis caurina) pellets collected in western Oregon during 1970–2009. The age distribution of red tree voles in pellets was dominated by young individuals, with 81% younger than one year and only 0.5% older than two years. The proportion of individuals 61–120 days old was particularly high relative to other age classes. The proportion of subadult (52–120 days old) individuals exhibited regional variation between the Oregon Cascades and the Coast Range. Localized annual variation in age distribution was low, exhibited no evidence of cyclic variation, and was positively associated with local precipitation rates during the spotted owl nesting season (March–June). We hypothesize that the age distribution of tree voles in owl pellets may be similar to the age structure of tree vole populations in the wild, but acknowledge that this is virtually impossible to test because tree voles cannot be adequately sampled using conventional small mammal capture methods.
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Vol. 93 • No. 3-4