Impact of crop cycle on movement patterns of pest rodent species between fields and houses in Africa


Context. Rodent pests can have severe impacts on crop production in sub-Saharan Africa. In particular ,the multimammate mouse Mastomysnatalensis 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 ofM.natalensis in Swaziland and Namibia by radio-telemetry. Mice were captured in maize fields within 50m of a home stead 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.


Wildlife Research, vol 38, pp 603–609


Agricultural fields, Houses, Movement patterns, Pest rodent species, Rodent species, Africa