Predation by small mammalian carnivores in rural agro-ecosystems: An undervalued ecosystem service?
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Africa is endowed with a diverse guild of small carnivores, which could benefit stakeholders by providing ecosystem services while fostering conservation tolerance for carnivores. To investigate the potential of small carnivores for the biological control of rodents within agro-ecosystems, we assessed both the ecological and social landscapes within two rural villages in the Vhembe Biosphere Reserve, South Africa. We employed a camera trapping survey underpinned by an occupancy modelling framework to distinguish between ecological and observation processes affecting small carnivore occupancy. We also used questionnaires to investigate perceptions of small carnivores and their role in pest control. We found the greatest diversity of small carnivores in land used for cropping in comparison to grazing or settlements. Probability of use by small carnivores was influenced negatively by the relative abundance of domestic dogs and positively by the relative abundance of livestock. Greater carnivore diversity and probability of use could be mediated through habitat heterogeneity, food abundance, or reduced competition from domestic carnivores. Village residents failed to appreciate the role of small carnivores in rodent control. Our results suggest that there is significant, although undervalued, potential for small carnivores to provide ecosystem services in agro-ecosystems.
- RESEARCH: Taylor, P