Small mammal communities in the transformed landscapes of the Western Cape lowlands and their role in alien invasion into fynbos remnants
Thesis (MScConsEcol (Conservation Ecology and Entomology))--Stellenbosch University, 2008.
The fynbos eco-region in the Western Cape lowlands has been extensively transformed by anthropogenic activities such as agriculture and urban development, as well as invasive alien plants. Elandsberg Private Nature Reserve and Farms lies on Swartland Alluvium Fynbos and has been largely fragmented by agricultural crop production, whilst Riverlands Nature Reserve together with the Pella Research Site, which lie on Atlantis Sand Fynbos, are under severe threat from the invasive woody alien Port Jackson Willow (Acacia saligna) which forms dense stands in the lands adjacent the nature reserve. Habitat transformation has resulted in subsequent loss of habitat and a reduction in habitat value for small mammal communities by creating a mosaic of optimal and sub-optimal habitats. The success of A. saligna is, in part, attributed to its production of copious amounts of small hard-shelled seeds and well established soil seed banks. In the first part of this study we investigated the effect of habitat transformation on resident small mammal communities by comparing small mammal species richness, diversity and abundance between natural and transformed habitats as well as between the two vegetation types. We also investigated the population demographics of the striped mouse (Rhabdomys pumilio) in the different habitats. Our study shows that whilst fragments of natural habitats, especially at Riverlands and Pella, may be playing an important role in harbouring rare and possibly endangered species, transformed habitats are also important as secondary habitats providing both cover as well as seasonal food resources. Reproduction and body condition in R. pumilio were dependent on seasonal changes such as availability of water and food resources in the habitats. The second part of this study was carried out to investigate the effect of alien plant invasion on the resident small mammal communities at Riverlands Nature Reserve and to determine the role of small mammals in the removal and predation of A. saligna seeds. Rodent species richness, diversity and abundance were very low in the A. saligna stands compared to the adjacent fynbos vegetation. The interaction of rodents with seeds (removal or predation) was dependent upon seed size and seed abundance in the habitats. Whilst rodents may play an important role in predator limitation in the acacias, it is also possible that they may be playing a significant role in dispersing the seeds of acacias into the fynbos. More work is required to fully understand the role small mammals play in seed predation, dispersal and limitation in alien invaded fynbos systems.