The relationship between mammalian burrow abundance and bankrupt bush (Seriphium plumosum) encroachment
Keywords:burrowing mammals, burrow density, Seriphium plumosum, Telperion Nature Reserve, Grassland Biome, shrub-density
Background: Much of the Grassland Biome in South Africa is prone to shrub encroachment, leading to loss of ecosystem services, habitat heterogeneity and species diversity. Burrowing mammals are an important component of grasslands as these animals create microhabitats for other taxa, including smaller mammal species, birds, reptiles and invertebrates. However, our understanding of how shrub encroachment affects burrowing mammals is poor.
Objectives: Here we assessed the relationship between burrow abundance and bankrupt bush, Seriphium plumosum, encroachment as well as burrowing mammal diversity in bankrupt bush encroached and non-encroached grasslands.
Method: Shrub density, medium and large mammal burrow abundance and density were measured in 24 encroached and 24 non-encroached areas randomly selected in the Telperion Nature Reserve, Mpumalanga, South Africa. In addition, burrowing mammal diversity was assessed using camera traps in a subset of six encroached and six non-encroached areas.
Results: Our results show that the abundance and density of medium and large burrows were significantly lower in encroached areas than in non-encroached areas (p = 0.011 and p < 0.001, respectively). The relationship between burrow abundance and bankrupt bush encroachment was negative (rho = -0.456, p = 0.001). However, burrowing mammal diversity had no significant difference between encroached and non-encroached areas.
Conclusion: Our data, therefore, suggest that with increasing bankrupt bush encroachment and a decreased abundance in burrowing mammal ecosystem services, a negative effect will occur on burrowing mammal communities, leading to the reduction in species-specific habitat heterogeneity and possibly animal biodiversity.
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