Linking changes in small mammal communities to ecosystem functions in an agricultural landscape
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Global increases in agricultural production have significant implications for biodiversity and ecosystem processes. In southern Africa, sugarcane production has converted native vegetation into agricultural monocultures. We examined functional group abundance along a conservation-agriculture gradient in the Lowveld of Swaziland. We captured small mammals representing 4 functional groups: omnivores, insectivores, granivores, and herbivores and found evidence of distinct changes in small mammal functional groups across the conservation-agriculture boundary. Granivores declined with increasing distance into the sugarcane and were completely absent at 375 m from the boundary while omnivores increased in the sugarcane. Insectivores and herbivores showed no differences between the two land uses; however, during the dry season, there were significantly more insectivores at the conservation-agriculture interface than in the conservation lands. Shifts in small mammal communities have clear implications for ecosystem processes as the removal of granivores from savannah systems can drastically alter vegetative structure and potentially lead to shrub encroachment via reduced levels of seed predation, while abundant omnivorous small mammals can cause significant crop damage and increase the prevalence of vector borne diseases in the environment.
- RESEARCH: Taylor, P