Small rodents trapped in African savannahs, to compare the population of rodents on and off termitaria in a savanna area. In addition, an experiment to assess the effect of herbivore exclusion on the population of rodents on and off termitaria in a savanna area.
Large herbivores and termites are important functional groups in African savannahs. Both groups affect small mammals, which are also important determinants for savannah structure and function. Because vegetation on Macrotermes mounds are preferentially grazed by large herbivores, and mounds represent resource-rich distinct habitat patches for small mammals in relatively resource-poor savannahs, termite mounds are ideal sites for studies of how grazing by large mammals and productivity affect communities of small mammals. We conducted an experiment in Lake Mburo National Park, Uganda, with four treatments: large vegetated Macrotermes mounds (with and without large herbivores) and adjacent savannah areas (with and without large herbivores). We replicated the treatment blocks nine times and trapped small mammals regularly over a period of almost 2 years. Small mammal species assemblages differed considerably between mounds and savannah areas. Grazing had a substantial effect on small mammal species assemblages in the resource-poor savannah, but not in the relatively resource-rich termitaria. Small mammal species abundance, biomass, and richness were higher on termite mounds than adjacent savannah areas. Excluding large herbivores caused a major increase in species abundance, biomass, and richness both on savannah and termitaria. Herbaceous plant species evenness was an important determinant of the small mammal community. Small mammal biomass increased with high plant dominance, indicating that a few dominant plant species are important for biomass production of small mammals. Small mammal diversity was not related to any of the treatments, but increased with plant species evenness as well as richness. Fencing increased species dominance in the small mammal community on both savannah and termitaria, probably because competitive patterns shift from inter-guild (that is, between large and small mammals) to intra-guild (that is, between small mammals) when large mammals are excluded. The study highlights the complex interactions among large herbivores, termites, herbaceous plants, and small mammals in African savannahs. When studying the structure and function of small mammal communities it is therefore important to consider several coexisting functional groups.