Impact of crop cycle on movement patterns of pest rodent species between fields and houses in Africa
Department of Biological Sciences, University of Swaziland, Private Bag 4, Kwaluseni, Swaziland; National Museum of Namibia, PO Box 1203, Windhoek, Namibia; Natural Resources Institute, University of Greenwich, Central Avenue, Chatham Maritime, Kent ME4 4TB, United Kingdom; Pest Management Centre, Sokoine University of Agriculture, PO Box 3110, Chuo Kikuu, Morogoro, Tanzania; Natural History Museum of Denmark, Zoological Department, Universitetsparken 15, 2100 Copenhagen Ø, Denmark; Department of Ecology and Resource Management, University of Venda, Private Bag X5050, Thohoyandou 0950, South Africa
Context Rodent pests can have severe impacts on crop production in sub-Saharan Africa. In particular, the multimammate mouse Mastomys natalensis severely damages agricultural crops in southern and eastern Africa, leading to significant losses. Both its population ecology and breeding biology have been studied in agricultural and natural habitats. Population numbers erupt depending on the timing and amount of rainfall and may reach plague proportions, especially in agricultural settings, where it may become a serious pest. However, the ecology of this species, in particular its interactions with other species within the context of human settlement, is poorly understood. It may occasionally enter houses, but the degree to which it does so and the factors influencing this movement are not known. Aims We investigated the relationship between Rattus spp. and M. natalensis entering buildings in an agro-ecological setting. We predicted that M. natalensis would enter houses more readily when food availability was lowest in the surrounding fields, and when the larger Rattus spp. were absent. Methods We followed 40 individuals of M. natalensis in Swaziland and Namibia by radio-telemetry. Mice were captured in maize fields within 50m of a homestead and fitted with radio-transmitters at three different times corresponding to different stages of crop development: pre-harvest, post-harvest and pre-planting. To corroborate the findings of the telemetry study, a non-toxic marker, rhodamine B, was mixed with standard bait and left at bait stations inside houses in 10 homesteads in Swaziland and Tanzania. Key results Mice remained in the fields during the entire period of study in Swaziland, but entered buildings in Namibia during the post-harvest stage, which may represent a period of food shortage for these mice in the field. Rodents captured after baiting with rhodamine B demonstrated that Rattus spp. predominated within the houses. A small number of rhodamine B-marked M. natalensis were captured outside the houses, the proportion declining with distance away from the houses. Conclusions These results suggest that in a typical rural African setting dominated by subsistence agriculture, Rattus spp. (when present) competitively exclude the smaller M. natalensis from entering houses. Implications Interactions between rodent pest species may be important in determining which rodent species enter houses in rural African landscapes. Consideration of such interactions may play an important role when developing pest management strategies. © 2011 CSIRO.
agricultural land; agroecology; bait; biological control; capture method; crop; crop production; environmental factor; food availability; habitat type; harvesting; human settlement; interspecific interaction; landscape; movement; pest species; population decline; population ecology; rainfall; reproductive biology; rodent; Africa