In this study, we investigate and compare the response patterns of small mammal communities to increasing land use intensity in two study areas: private farmland at the southern boundary of Etosha National Park and smallholder farmland in Tsumeb agricultural area. Species richness, community composition and a standardized capture index (RCI) are compared between sites of (a) increasing grazing pressure of ungulates (Etosha) and (b) increasing conversion of bushland to arable land (Tsumeb). Within each study area, we found clear response patterns towards increasing land use intensity. However, patterns differ significantly between the two areas. Within the less-transformed area (Etosha), high land use intensity results in a decrease in the RCI but not species richness. Small mammal communities remain relatively stable, but ecosystem functions (e.g., bioturbation, seed dispersal) are weakened. Within the more-transformed area (Tsumeb), high land use intensity leads to a decrease in species richness and increasing RCIs of two common pest species. The disappearance of a balanced community and the dramatic increase in a few pest species has the potential to threaten human livelihoods (e.g., crop damage, disease vectors). Our comparative approach clearly indicates that Gerbilliscus leucogaster
is a possible candidate for an ecological indicator of ecosystem integrity. Mastomys natalensis
has the potential to become an important pest species when bushland is transformed into irrigated arable land. Our results support the importance of area-specific conservation and management measures in savanna ecosystems.
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