Ecology of small rodents in Africa


  • *Department of Biology, Sultan Qaboons University, P.O. Box 6281, Ruwi, Muscat, Sultanate of Oman.


This account considers progress in research on small rodent ecology since about 1970. While some ecological survey has been undertaken throughout much of the continent, the main research thrust has involved the detailed examination of population processes in a range of habitats from deserts to tropical rain forests. The deserts and semi-arid regions support a range of species with some better adapted to these harsh conditions than others. The adaptations manifest themselves in different life history strategies e.g., opportunistic with high turnover species, or low turnover-low reproduction species, in their physiology e.g., adaption to water retention, and in their behaviour e.g., avoiding heat of day. Long term studies show large numerical fluctuations with a quick response by some species to favourable conditions caused by relatively high precipitation. In the savanna and grasslands, studies have centred on population dynamics, the relationship between food and breeding, reproductive and life history strategies and the determination of niche. These have been approached through the study of groups of species in particular localities as well as by the examination of individual species. In these habitats populations are more stable and less erratic than in semi-arid regions. Perturbations, particularly fire, can have various effects on the numbers and species composition of the disturbed area. In the tropical rain forest population fluctuations are modest and may take up to 2–3 years to pass from a peak to a trough and back again. Breeding typically extends over much of the year with, apparently, the greatest number of rodents occurring on the ground surface. Bush and temporary farms derived as a result of forest modification support more animals (and often more species) than forest. The niches occupied by forest rodents are poorly understood and very little is known of the ecology within the canopy. In most localities a small number of species are abundant and the remainder much less frequent.