Trophic status of small mammals in the semi-arid Karoo, South Africa



The feeding habits of a community of small mammals from the semi-arid Karoo, South Africa were analysed by microscopic examination of the stomach contents of animals caught during a 13-month snap-trapping study. The community comprised eight rodent species (Gerbillurus paeba, Mus minutoides, Rhabdomys pumilio, Otomys unisulcatus, Saccostomus campestris, Desmodillus auricularis, Malacothrix typica, Mastomys natalensis) and a single macroscelid elephant shrew (Macroscelides proboscideus.) The rodents were all predominantly herbivorous, while the elephant shrew ate mainly insects. No granivores or omnivores were represented in this community. The results presented here (including the first analysis of the diet of M. typica) indicate a greater emphasis on herbivory than previously described for these species. Limited dietary overlap was recorded between these species, although some instances of potential dietary competition that deserve further study were identified. The paucity of granivorous small mammals in the semi-arid Karoo contrasts the patterns of trophic specialization for North American and Israeli semi-arid communities, but is similar to that of South American, Australian and other southern African semi-arid communities.