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Article

Patterns and Drivers of Rodent Abundance across a South African Multi-Use Landscape

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cE3c—Centre for Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Changes, Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade de Lisboa, Campo Grande, 1749-016 Lisboa, Portugal
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Department of Zoology, School of Mathematical & Natural Sciences, University of Venda, Thohoyandou 0950, Limpopo, South Africa
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Centre for Research into Ecological and Environmental Modelling, The Observatory, University of St Andrews, St Andrews KY16 9LZ, UK
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Centro de Estatística e Aplicações, Departamento de Biologia Animal, Faculdade de Ciências, Universidade de Lisboa, 1749-016 Lisboa, Portugal
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editor: Emiliano Mori
Animals 2021, 11(9), 2618; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11092618
Received: 2 August 2021 / Revised: 27 August 2021 / Accepted: 31 August 2021 / Published: 7 September 2021
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Response of Wildlife Populations and Communities to Global Change)
Wildlife ecological patterns are driven not only by environmental and biological contexts, but also by landscape-management schemes that shape those contexts. The present study aims to determine the effect of different environmental factors (including management schemes) on the occurrence patterns of a southern African small mammal community. Based on a landscape where three land-use contexts that differ in their levels of human presence and/or where activities coexist (private ecotourism reserve, mixed farms and traditional communal areas), and by using a body-size-based approach (i.e., using two size-based rodent groups—medium and small—as models), we found that the mean relative abundance of medium-sized species did not differ across the management contexts, but small species’ mean relative abundance was higher in the game reserve. The overall variation in rodent abundance was negatively affected by ungulate presence (possibly linked to a decrease in food availability) and by human presence (increased disturbance). Rodent abundance seems to be influenced by environmental gradients that are directly linked to varying management priorities across land uses, meaning that these communities might not benefit uniformly by the increased amount of habitat promoted by the commercial wildlife industry.
South Africa’s decentralized approach to conservation entails that wildlife outside formally protected areas inhabit complex multi-use landscapes, where private wildlife business (ecotourism and/or hunting) co-exist in a human-dominated landscape matrix. Under decentralized conservation, wildlife is perceived to benefit from increased amount of available habitat, however it is crucial to understand how distinct management priorities and associated landscape modifications impact noncharismatic taxa, such as small mammals. We conducted extensive ink-tracking-tunnel surveys to estimate heterogeneity in rodent distribution and investigate the effect of different environmental factors on abundance patterns of two size-based rodent groups (small- and medium-sized species), across three adjacent management contexts in NE KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa: a private ecotourism game reserve, mixed farms and traditional communal areas (consisting of small clusters of houses interspersed with grazing areas and seminatural vegetation). Our hypotheses were formulated regarding the (1) area typology, (2) vegetation structure, (3) ungulate pressure and (4) human disturbance. Using a boosted-regression-tree approach, we found considerable differences between rodent groups’ abundance and distribution, and the underlying environmental factors. The mean relative abundance of medium-sized species did not differ across the three management contexts, but small species mean relative abundance was higher in the game reserves, confirming an influence of the area typology on their abundance. Variation in rodent relative abundance was negatively correlated with human disturbance and ungulate presence. Rodent abundance seems to be influenced by environmental gradients that are directly linked to varying management priorities across land uses, meaning that these communities might not benefit uniformly by the increased amount of habitat promoted by the commercial wildlife industry. View Full-Text
Keywords: non-invasive sampling; ecological modelling; management options; conservation non-invasive sampling; ecological modelling; management options; conservation
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MDPI and ACS Style

Afonso, B.C.; Swanepoel, L.H.; Rosa, B.P.; Marques, T.A.; Rosalino, L.M.; Santos-Reis, M.; Curveira-Santos, G. Patterns and Drivers of Rodent Abundance across a South African Multi-Use Landscape. Animals 2021, 11, 2618. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11092618

AMA Style

Afonso BC, Swanepoel LH, Rosa BP, Marques TA, Rosalino LM, Santos-Reis M, Curveira-Santos G. Patterns and Drivers of Rodent Abundance across a South African Multi-Use Landscape. Animals. 2021; 11(9):2618. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11092618

Chicago/Turabian Style

Afonso, Beatriz C., Lourens H. Swanepoel, Beatriz P. Rosa, Tiago A. Marques, Luís M. Rosalino, Margarida Santos-Reis, and Gonçalo Curveira-Santos. 2021. "Patterns and Drivers of Rodent Abundance across a South African Multi-Use Landscape" Animals 11, no. 9: 2618. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11092618

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