No evidence of pre-hibernation or pre-migratory body mass gain in Miniopterus natalensis in north-eastern South Africa
Abstract. Migration and hibernation are survival strategies that require physiological preparation using fattening. Bats employ both strategies in times of resource shortages. However, because males and females vary seasonally in their reproductive physiological needs, they may employ different fattening patterns. Whilst fattening, migration and hibernation are common in temperate bats, little is known about subtropical migratory insectivores. This study investigated seasonal variation in body mass of the regionally migrating Natal long-fingered bat Miniopterus natalensis to determine if males and females show fattening in preparation for migration/hibernation. Seasonal change best explained the variation observed in overall body mass, whilst sex and forearm length explained the variation to a lesser extent. Body mass between males and females differed significantly by reproductive category among the four seasons. Forearm length was a significant predictor of the body mass of males. Scrotal males had a higher body mass in summer compared to autumn. This pattern of mass gain was not observed in non-scrotal males. The summer body mass of nonpregnant and post-lactating females was not significantly higher than the autumn body mass of nonpregnant females, which did not support the hypothesis that females would exhibit fattening during summer before migration. Results suggest that males and females employ different mass-gain strategies related to reproductive investment rather than fattening preparation for migration or hibernation.
Dogs and Conservation: emerging themes and considerations
Benefits of incorporating a scat-detection dog into wildlife monitoring: a case study of Pyrenean brown bear
Abstract. In the Pyrenees, brown bear population abundance is estimated from non-invasive genetic analyses of scat and hair samples. Although such analyses are highly beneficial for population monitoring and research, it can be especially difficult for humans to locate bear scats in the field. To address this, we have incorporated a dog (trained from an early age to detect bear scats) into these efforts since 2014. Here, we compared the effectiveness of the scat-detection dog/handler and human-only teams to locate bear scats using our work in the Pyrenees as a case study. A species validation was systematically carried out, either genetically or visually using a microscope, based on the presence of bear hair, for all scats collected from 2010 to 2019. From 2014 to 2019, the use of the dog/handler team in addition to human-only teams increased the average number of bear scats collected annually by four times in comparison with the 2010-2013 period when only humans were searching for scats. This temporal augmentation could not be explained by the increase in bear population size. From 2014 to 2019, the annual percentage of outings during which at least one bear scat was found was 17 times higher for the dog than for humans. The use of the dog also resulted indirectly in a better genotyping success and genetic identification of more individuals due to a larger choice of viable samples that could be sent to the molecular laboratory, as well as a larger number of cub scats detected by the dog. We found that even the use of a single scat-detection dog can greatly improve the efficiency of detecting target scats in challenging monitoring conditions.
Wolf scat detection dog improves wolf genetic monitoring in new French colonized areas
Abstract. A detection dog and handler team were used to recover scats in areas newly colonized by wolves outside the Alpine mountains of France between October 2018 and May 2019. Survey areas were classified as occupied by a resident wolf pack (WP) or dispersers (no-WP). The efficiency of monitoring by a targeted dog-handler team was compared to opportunistic monitoring by trained observers. Use of the detection dog allowed up to 99.6% time savings relative to monitoring by trained observers. Wolf scats found by the dog represented 82.1% of genetically confirmed samples in the 12 sample units (each being 10 × 10 km) monitored by both trained observers and the dog-handler team. Occupancy modelling was used to estimate wolf detection probabilities. Ten kilometres of survey with the dog were required to reach a 98% detection probability in WP territories and 20 km to reach 96% in no-WP areas. By contrast, two years of opportunistic monitoring by trained observers were required to obtain a 90% and 76% probability of detecting wolves in WP and no-WP areas, respectively. The use of the detection dog via dog-team surveys greatly increased the collection of viable samples for genetic analysis and individual genotype identification. Our study offers further confirmation that dog-handler teams can be very effective at locating scats from target carnivores, to supplement or complement human search efforts.
Twenty-five years of livestock guarding dog use across Namibian farmlands
Abstract. Preventing human-wildlife conflict is key to maintaining viable predator populations. In Namibia, over 90% of cheetahs are found outside of protected areas, therefore risk of conflict with farmers is high. Since 1994, the Cheetah Conservation Fund has implemented a programme to prevent livestock depredation using livestock guarding dogs (LGDs). Long-term (25-year period) monitoring efforts in Namibia have provided insights on the efficiency and performance of LGDs and farmers‘ perceptions. LGDs reduced livestock losses for 91% of respondents and farmers were highly satisfied with their LGD. Poor performance from behavioural issues, such as “staying at home“ and “chasing game“, was linked to the LGDs receiving less care and being found in poorer body condition. Unwanted ecological impacts of wildlife killings by LGDs merit further investigation, but occurrence of behavioural issues reduced over time, suggesting a targeted and adaptive management approach to increase performance. Addressing behavioural issues, increasing LGD lifespans and understanding LGD performance under different conditions will be crucial for optimising LGD management leading to better performance. Our long-term study provides unique insights into a highly successful programme and is recommended to be replicated and adapted where imminent human-predator conflicts threaten coexistence.
Using detection dogs to reveal illegal pesticide poisoning of raptors in Hungary
Abstract. In Hungary, during the 2000s, pesticide poisoning became the most important threat for raptors, especially for the globally threatened Eastern imperial eagle (Aquila heliaca). In September 2013, with a focus on carbofuran and phorate, the first poison and carcass detection dog (PCDD) unit was formed in Hungary with a specifically trained detection dog and handler. Two more dogs were subsequently trained and joined the unit in 2017 and 2020 respectively. Between its inception until August 2020, the PCDD unit conducted 1,083 searches in five countries, which revealed 329 poisoned animals of 15 bird and nine mammal species, 120 poisoned baits and five pesticide products. Globally threatened species, including eight Eastern imperial eagles and four saker falcons (Falco cherrug), were among the detected victims. Present at 66.45% of wildlife poisoning events, the unit revealed 37.87% of the victims and 79.70% of the poisoned baits known in Hungary during the period 2013-2020. Compared to human surveys, the PCDD unit demonstrated a significantly higher find rate for poisoned baits. At 22 poisoning events (14.38% of all cases) only the PCDD unit revealed victims or poisoned baits; cases that would probably have gone undetected without the PCCD unit. Of the two focal pesticides, carbofuran was more frequently detected – in 88.56% of the positive samples. The unit played a significant role in detecting and combating wildlife poisoning incidents by deterring potential offenders and facilitating police investigations through retrieval of evidence otherwise difficult to obtain.
Every dog has its day: indigenous Tswana dogs are more practical livestock guardians in an arid African savanna compared with their expatriate cousins
Abstract. Livestock guarding dogs (LGDs) have been used for centuries to reduce depredation on livestock and, more recently, to facilitate the conservation of threatened carnivores. Conservation organisations in southern Africa promote the use of Anatolian shepherds as LGDs. However, livestock farmers in Botswana use a variety of breeds for this purpose, including local landrace “Tswana” dogs. Our study sought to test the overall effectiveness of these local breeds as LGDs. Irrespective of breed, all LGDs reduced livestock losses, with 47.9% of farmers experiencing no losses after obtaining a guarding dog. Owners with more LGDs, and LGDs of a single sex, had greater reductions in livestock losses. Anatolian shepherds displayed more behavioural problems than other breeds in our study. The health of LGDs was reliant on them receiving a balanced diet, and owners with fewer dogs reported fewer health issues. Moreover, Tswana guarding dogs were cheaper to purchase and feed than their purebred counterparts. Our results show that local landrace dogs can be considered a cheaper and more practical alternative to purebred LGDs for reducing livestock losses and for mitigating human-wildlife conflict in Botswana.
Abstract. Tracking and sniffer dogs have been employed in a variety of law enforcement roles world-wide and are increasingly utilized to combat wildlife crimes (i.e. poaching and trafficking). I examined the K-9 counter-poaching unit based at Akagera National Park in Rwanda. I discuss motivations and reasoning for the unit’s creation, and examine the challenges faced and methods used to overcome these. I also highlight successes and best practices in place at the Park. The major challenge encountered is health issues related to the parasitic protozoan Trypanosoma spp. Minor budgetary and facility challenges exist. Developing in-house solutions such as setting up a small clinic and basic veterinary training for handlers have reduced health risks and costs. Crossbreeding the original tracking dogs from Europe with local dogs from the communities around the park has been a success. Puppies bred and trained on-site offer affordable alternatives to purchasing additional dogs from abroad. The cross-bred dogs may also be better suited for working in the Akagera environment but further scientific study is needed to understand this. Additional successes include training dogs to track both on- and off-lead, allowing for a unit with multiple skill sets and more efficient, faster tracking.
Abstract. Efficient and systematic survey methods are essential for wildlife researchers and conservationists to collect accurate ecological data that can be used to make informed conservation decisions. For endangered and elusive species, that are not easily detected by conventional methods, reliable, time- and cost-efficient methodologies become increasingly important. Across a growing spectrum of conservation research projects, survey outcomes are benefitting from scent detection dogs that assist with locating elusive species. This paper describes the training methodology used to investigate the ability of a scent detection dog to locate live riverine rabbits (Bunolagus monticularis) in their natural habitat, and to determine how species-specific the dog was towards the target scent in a controlled environment. The dog was trained using operant conditioning and a non-visual methodology, with only limited scent from roadkill specimens available. The dog achieved a 98% specificity rate towards the target scent, indicating that the dog was able to distinguish the scent of riverine rabbits from the scent of other lagomorph species. The dog has already been able to locate ten of these elusive individuals in the wild. The training method proved successful in the detection of this critically endangered species, where scent for training was only available from deceased specimens.
Abstract. The intensification of agriculture has resulted in changes to mowing techniques. Slow manual cutting gave wild animals time to move to safer habitat patches and left hiding places for them. With the arrival of much faster mowing machinery this is no longer the case. To date, there are few ways of measuring direct mortality of new mowing capabilities on wildlife. In our study we aimed to answer whether a search dog, previously trained to find carcasses, could be used to assess mowing mortality of various species in different vegetation types in Hungary. Working with a handler, a carcass-trained dog fitted with a GPS surveyed several habitats post-mowing. All the animal remains detected were identified and recorded. 149 killed individuals were detected on 12 land parcels studied (158.2 carcasses/100 ha). The most affected vertebrate group was the reptiles (57%), all with protected status in Hungary, followed by mammals (30%) and birds (6%). Reptiles were predominantly represented by lizards, while rodents were the most common mammals found (91% and 70%, respectively). The dog also found dead brown hares, pheasants and roe deer (11% of all carcasses), which has implications for local wildlife managers. There was no statistical difference in the density of dead individuals between grassy meadows and leguminous vegetation, or in those found in the morning or afternoon. The mortality rate was not associated with the area of the mowed field. Our findings suggest that this is a viable use of carcass detection dogs. We recommend additional work of this kind to reveal the fatal impacts of new, faster mowing practices on wildlife living in agricultural landscapes to help mitigate conservation and game management conflicts.
Abstract. Accurate survey methods are required for any wildlife research to yield reliable population data. This constraint finds significance in amphibian research that involves a highly threatened group of animals with a large proportion of cryptic species not easily detected by conventional survey methods. Across a growing spectrum of zoology research, survey outcomes are benefitting from the efficacy of scent detection dogs in assisting with species detection. We investigated the ability of a scent detection dog to locate and identify traces of giant bullfrog, Pyxicephalus adspersus scent and investigate methods of preserving frog scent for use in subsequent conditioning training of dogs. The scent detection dog was able to detect 100,000 times diluted scent with 87% sensitivity and 84% efficacy. High specificity (98,6%) was also achieved while presented with the challenge of detecting P. adspersus scent amid that of other frog species. Detection sensitivity was negatively correlated with scent preservation time but yielded the highest sensitivity for samples that were preserved as skin swabs stored at 4 °C and diluted shortly before use. Conservationists, scientists, and customs officials alike can benefit from scent detection dog detection of amphibians through enhanced sample acquisition rates with reduced collection biases.
Impact of multiple stressors on the fish community pattern along a highly degraded Central European river – a case study
Abstract. In this study, we provide a descriptive assessment of how chemical and hydro-morphological stressors have affected the fish community along one of the most impacted rivers in Central Europe. In addition to the toxicity of combined pollutants (expressed in toxic units), a range of hydro-morphological characteristics were measured to assess which stressors have had an impact. No longitudinal spatial trend was observed in fish assemblage characteristics as individual sites were affected by different stressors. Instead, five largely artificial assemblage “zones” were identified corresponding to different combinations of stressors. Water quality (principally dissolved O2) and hydromorphology were the main drivers affecting fish presence and density, with self-purification processes, restocking from tributaries and geomorphology promoting fish survival and/or recovery, despite increasing toxic pressure downstream. Our results suggest that a) toxic units alone are insufficient to establish causative factors in fish community loss as they do not take account of hydro-morphological stressors, many of which interact with and/or mask each other, and b) that a single WFD monitoring site in such heavily impacted rivers is insufficient to assess ecological status; rather, the ecological status of specific “zones” (identified based on fish assemblage structure, habitat and water quality) should be assessed, with the ultimate aim of merging the zones and returning the river to a single functioning longitudinal ecosystem, accepting that this is unlikely to resemble the natural pre-industrial status of the river.
Comparing non-invasive surveying techniques for elusive, nocturnal mammals: a case study of the West European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus)
Abstract. Monitoring changes in populations is fundamental for effective management. The West European hedgehog (Erinaceus europeaus) is of conservation concern in the UK because of recent substantial declines. Surveying hedgehogs is, however, problematic because of their nocturnal, cryptic behaviour. We compared the effectiveness of three methods (infra-red thermal camera, specialist search dog, spotlight) for detecting hedgehogs in three different habitats. Significantly more hedgehogs were detected, and at greater distance, using the camera and dog than the spotlight in amenity grassland and pasture; no hedgehogs were detected in woodland. Increasing ground cover reduced detection distances, with most detections (59.6%) associated with bare soil or mown grass; the dog was the only method that detected hedgehogs in vegetation taller than the target species’ height. The additional value of surveying with a detection dog is most likely to be realised in areas where badgers (Meles meles), an intra-guild predator, are and/or where sufficient ground cover is present; both would allow hedgehogs to forage further from refuge habitats such as hedgerows. Further consideration of the effectiveness of detection dogs for finding hedgehogs in nests, as well as developing techniques for monitoring this species in woodland, is warranted.
Abstract. This study investigated the browning plasticity of white adipose tissue (WAT) in Tupaia belangeri during cold acclimation and rewarming in order to demonstrate the adaptation mechanism of tree shrews to environmental change. The experimental group was transferred to a cold temperature, 5 ± 1 °C, acclimated for 28 d, and then returned to 25 ± 1 °C for 28 d, while the control group was maintained at the acclimation temperature, 25 ± 1 °C, for 56 d. Body mass, food intake, resting metabolic rate (RMR), WAT mass, morphology and related gene expression in male T. belangeri were measured. The results showed that body mass, food intake and RMR increased significantly under cold acclimation. There was also a significant increase in WAT mass and expression of peroxisome proliferation receptor α (PPARα), peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor γ coactivator-1α (PGC-1α), cyclooxygenaseⅡ (COXⅡ), bone morphogenetic protein 7 (BMP7) and the PR domain containing 16 (PRDM16), all of which decreased to control levels after rewarming. Further, WAT cells showed more multilocule adipocytes during cold acclimation, which returned to control levels after rewarming. These results suggest that browning may appear in the WAT of T. belangeri during cold acclimation. The return to control levels of WAT cell characteristics and expression of the genes involved in WAT browning after rewarming demonstrates strong browning plasticity.
How strong are eggs of the common cuckoo Cuculus canorus?
Abstract. The common cuckoo Cuculus canorus is an obligate brood parasite that lays its eggs in the nests of small passerines. It has long been hypothesized that cuckoo eggs should be structurally stronger than host eggs or those of non-parasitic cuckoos to reduce chances of breakage during laying, to prevent accidental damage during incubation and/or to hinder their rejection through puncture ejection by the host. Therefore, we analysed selected characteristics of a sample of freshly laid eggs of the common cuckoo with two of its major hosts, the reed warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus and great reed warbler Acrocephalus arundinaceus, and a sample of species with known puncture resistant eggs. We found that in puncture resistance tests cuckoo eggs tolerated on average 231 g. The cuckoo eggs were 3.3 and 2.5 times stronger than those of the reed warbler and great reed warbler, respectively. Greater shell thickness can explain only 17% of the total extra strength of the cuckoo eggs (125.97 g). When we controlled for the confounding effects of egg size (using a sample of eggs of normal strength from bird species of varying size), the common cuckoo eggs were 2.2 times stronger than expected for their size. Our results are consistent with the hypothesis that cuckoo eggs are structurally stronger and this trait probably represents an adaptation for a brood parasitic life style.
The blunt pole is not a source of more salient recognition cues than the sharp pole for the rejection of model eggs by American robins (Turdus migratorius)
Abstract. Hosts of obligate avian brood parasites can reduce the costs of raising parasitic offspring by rejecting foreign eggs from their nests. Rejecter hosts use various visual and tactile cues to discriminate between own and foreign eggs. The blunt pole hypothesis specifically states that avian-perceivable visual information at and around the broader pole of the eggshell contains more salient recognition cues than does the sharp pole of the same egg. The directional prediction is, therefore, that eggs painted non-mimetically on their blunt pole should more likely be rejected relative to those similarly painted on their sharp pole. This hypothesis had been experimentally tested and its predictions supported solely in mimetic avian host-parasite systems, with hosts producing denser and more variable eggshell maculation patterns at the blunt pole, and in one species with immaculate eggs but still with distinctly discernible blunt-pole specific colouration. Here we aimed to expand upon these previous works and assessed whether the blunt pole of model eggs contains more salient egg rejection cues, relative to the sharp pole, for the American robin (Turdus migratorius), a robust rejecter of non-mimetic brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater) eggs. In this system host eggs are uniformly immaculate whereas the brood parasitic shell is maculated. We painted model cowbird-sized eggs on either the blunt or the sharp half to mimic the immaculate robin egg colours and the other half to resemble non-mimetic egg colours and patterns. There was no statistical support for the predicted outcomes of the blunt pole hypothesis in our trials as rejection rates were similar regardless of whether eggs were painted with non-mimetic colours on the blunt or sharp poles. Future work should test the role of asymmetrical signalling content for anti-parasitic rejection of eggs in additional host species, especially those with both immaculate own and mimetic parasitic eggs.
Nest-site selection of an avian urban exploiter, the Eurasian magpie Pica pica, across the urban-rural gradient
Abstract. Although rapid growth in the extent of urbanized habitats across the globe represents a major threat to biodiversity, there is growing evidence that urban ecosystems can represent suitable habitats for many taxa, including birds. Exploring aspects of bird ecology across the urban-rural gradient, including determinants of habitat associations, are crucial to understanding responses to urbanisation. Here, we examined factors affecting nest-site selection of Eurasian magpies across an urban-rural gradient, contrasting urban and non-urban habitats. The presence and density of Eurasian magpie nests was positively associated with the proportion of green urban areas, and negatively with forests, arable land and buildings, despite habitat associations differing across the urban-rural gradient. We also found a negative relationship between nest height and distance from city edge. The highest nests were found in city centre residential areas, whereas the lowest nests were in the new residential areas. We conclude that Eurasian magpies can successfully exploit urban environments, partially due to adaptation of their nesting behaviour. In particular, they construct their nests higher in urban areas to avoid the negative impacts of human disturbance and predation.
Survival of water rail Rallus aquaticus (Aves, Rallidae) embryos exposed to experimental flooding
Abstract. Rails (family Rallidae) are adapted to wetland habitats, nesting in emergent vegetation where flooding is one of the main factors that contributes to nesting failure rates. We conducted an experiment to test the capacity of water rail and Japanese quail embryos to survive flooding. During the experiment, 52 water rail and 60 quail eggs were divided into three groups. One control group was artificially incubated in standard conditions and the other two groups were submerged during artificial incubation for 2 hours and 3 hours, respectively, in the third week of the incubation period in water at 21 °C. A total of 88.2% of water rail eggs hatched in the control group, 83.3% in the 2 h flooded group and 29.4% in the 3 h flooded group. For the quail eggs, 75% hatched in the control group, 10% in the 2 h flooded group and 5% in the 3 h flooded group. Water rail embryos were five times more resistant to 2 h flooding conditions, and approximately twice as resistant to a 3 h immersion compared to quail embryos. The elevated survival rate of water rail embryos may be related to their capacity to enter torpor.
Abstract. Livestock guarding dogs (LGDs) are used across the world to reduce livestock depredation by free-ranging predatory wildlife. In doing so, they reduce the need for lethal predator control and are considered beneficial for conservation. However, LGDs might be perceived as predators by wildlife and induce a multitude of both positive and negative ecological effects. We conducted a literature review to evaluate the ecological effects of LGDs and found 56 publications reporting LGDs interacting with or affecting wildlife. Featuring in 77% of the publications, LGDs were widely reported to chase and kill wildlife, leading to species-specific behavioural responses. A total of 80 species were affected by LGDs, 11 of which are listed as Near Threatened or higher on the IUCN Red List. Of the affected species, 78% were non-target species, suggesting that any benefits arising from the use of LGDs likely occur simultaneously with unintended ecological effects. However, the frequency of LGD-wildlife interactions and the magnitude of any resulting ecological effects have rarely been quantified. Therefore, more empirical studies are needed to determine the net ecological outcome of LGD use, thereby ensuring that negative outcomes are minimised, while benefiting both farmers and wildlife.
Reducing livestock-carnivore conflict on rural farms using local livestock guarding dogs
Abstract. Livestock depredation can be devastating to both farmers and the species considered responsible if they are subsequently persecuted. Many proposed conflict solutions are limited in their uptake because they may be short-term, localised, expensive or species-specific. Livestock guarding dogs have been a successful solution in many parts of the world, however recommended imported breeds are generally expensive or inaccessible to many rural farmers. In this study, we report on a program placing local Tswana dogs with farmers in Botswana as a tool to reduce livestock loss. Seventy-five farmers who experienced high conflict from carnivores in both rangelands and wildlife areas were selected to receive a Tswana puppy. Puppies were monitored regularly to determine their performance, survival and owner attitudes toward wildlife. From initial baseline reports of goat losses before farmers received a puppy, loss declined by at least 85% over the following three years. Farmers were very satisfied with the performance of their livestock guarding dog and attitudes toward protection and tolerance of wildlife improved after one year of receiving a puppy. Our study suggests locally bred Tswana dogs are an effective solution for livestock at risk to depredation, particularly for rural farmers and development of community-led programs can be further used to reduce conflict.
Interactions between livestock guarding dogs and wolves in the southern French Alps
Abstract. Thirty years after the return of grey wolves (Canis lupus) to the French Alps, the number of livestock losses is on the rise despite livestock guarding dogs (LGDs) being widely used. Their relevance is, therefore, questioned by some sheep owner associations. To date, no study has investigated how LGDs interact with wolves in pastures. We present the results of a 6-year study totalling 3,300 hours of direct night-time observations to record the nature, frequency and outcomes of LGD-wolf interactions in the southern French Alps. We recorded 476 wolf events in the presence of LGDs, including 175 interactions, 66% of which were agonistic. Most (65%) of the interactions occurred at a distance > 100 m from the flock and on average involved more LGDs than wolves. In the presence of LGDs, wolves approached the flocks 134 times resulting in no attack (65%), attacks with no sheep victim (24.6%), or attacks with ≥ 1 sheep victim (10.4%). Our results suggest that LGD-wolf interactions are complex and do not simply occur in the immediate vicinity of the flock. We recommend using groups > 6 LGDs and reinforcing the presence of LGDs in a wider radius around the flock to limit the presence of isolated groups of sheep and to improve protection against wolf attacks.
Wilson D.E. & Mittermeier R.A. (eds.) 2019: Handbook of the Mammals of the World – Vol. 9, Bats
Two new species of Crocidura (Mammalia: Soricidae) from Ethiopia and updates on the Ethiopian shrew fauna
Abstract. We describe two new species of white-toothed shrews from south-western and central Ethiopia, based on recent collections and an application of morphological and genetic methods, Crocidura similiturba sp. nov. and Crocidura makeda sp. nov. Comparisons are provided with other Crocidura species known to occur in the country. Both new species are currently known only from the Ethiopian Highlands. Furthermore, we provide new geographical records and discuss biogeographical patterns in the country. New molecular data, even if based primarily on mitochondrial cytochrome b, suggests substantial divergence within afrotropical Suncus megalura, suggesting that the East African lineage might be considered separated at the species level – Suncus sorella (Thomas, 1897), stat. nov. Molecular data support a monophyly of the clade, grouping most Crocidura species endemic to Ethiopia (the East African subclade of the Old World clade), but also indicates additional colonisations of Ethiopian Plateau from East and Central Africa in the past. The remarkable number of endemics shows that Ethiopia is an important centre for the Crocidura radiation, as is the case for other groups of non-flying terrestrial vertebrates.
Effects of prescribed burning on rodent community ecology in Serengeti National Park
Abstract. A study on the effects of prescribed burning on rodent community ecology was conducted in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. The study aimed at generating ecological knowledge about the changes in rodent communities when areas of the park are intentionally burned to regulate grasslands or reduce undergrowth that can lead to uncontrolled forest fires. A completely randomized design (CRD) factorial layout with two treatments (burned and unburned) and two replications was applied. A total of 148 animals comprising six species of rodent and one insectivore were captured over 2,940 trap nights. Among the trapped individuals, 41.9% were adults, 16.1% juveniles and 41.9% sub-adults. Males and females were at parity between treatments. Species abundance was estimated using the minimum number alive (MNA) method for different rodent species and was found to vary with treatment where Mastomys natalensis declined in burned plots whilst Arvicanthis niloticus increased. However, species diversity did not differ across treatments (F1, 10 = 0.15, p = 0.70). Differences in the reproductive condition of female M. natalensis (z = 4.408, df = 15, p < 0.001) and A. niloticus (z = 2.381, df = 15, p = 0.017) were observed between treatments showing that higher numbers of reproductively active females were observed in burned plots in March, whilst in unburned plots more were observed from November to February. Conservation strategies involving periodic habitat burning should, therefore, consider small mammal reproductive periods to ensure that species potentially at risk are not adversely affected and able to rapidly recover from the effects of burning in temporarily lowering food resources and longer term impacts of increased predation caused by reduced cover.
Freshwater gobies (Gobiidae) of Bosnia and Herzegovina: a review of the current status and distribution
Abstract. This review updates the information on the actual status and distribution of freshwater gobies in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The available literature has been critically reviewed to provide more complete and up-to-date information. Consequently four species are proposed for removal from the national checklist, given the lack of any data to support their presence: Knipowitschia panizzae, Pomatoschistus microps, Proterorhinus marmoratus and Zosterisessor ophiocephalus. Therefore, the freshwater gobiid fauna is confirmed to include seven species from six genera. The Adriatic Sea basin (Neretva River catchment) is inhabited by three endemic species: Knipowitschia radovici, Orsinigobius croaticus and Ninnigobius canestrinii, while the Black Sea basin (Danube River catchment) is inhabited by the invasive species: Babka gymnotrachelus, Neogobius fluviatilis, Neogobius melanostomus and Ponticola kessleri. However, due to the possibility of misidentify the finding of B. gymnotrachelus is questionable and needs confirmation. Distribution of both endemic Knipowitschia and Orsinogobius species is restricted to small areas in the lower Neretva River catchment on both sides of the Croatia-Bosnia and Herzegovina border. The vulnerability of these species is discussed, and the IUCN conservation and units meriting conservation attention were identified. The invasive character of other species is highlighted. This review indicates that the knowledge on the Bosnia-Herzegovinian freshwater gobiid fauna is still far from complete, hence this up-to-date checklist can serve as a basis for further ecological and zoogeographical studies. For better species inventory, finer scale distribution surveys are needed, followed by detailed morphological, molecular phylogenetic and ecological studies.
Abstract. The presence of the parasitic copepod Neoalbionella globosa in the olfactory chamber of a specimen of the catshark Scyliorhinus canicula has been already reported in the literature, but this is the first record from the north-western Mediterranean Sea. Besides confirming this host-parasite association in the Ligurian Sea, the present study aims to describe some effects of the copepod’s presence on the olfactory system of S. canicula, thus inferring potential effects of nasal parasites on olfaction. The copepod was accidentally found during a sampling campaign. The copepod, a mature female with well-developed egg sacs, parasitized the right olfactory rosette; the rosette presented visible swelling in some of the olfactory lamellae while, histologically, restricted edema was detectable close to the zone of attachment. The ipsilateral olfactory bulb, which receives the primary olfactory afferences, had a smaller number of cells and smaller neuron density compared to the contralateral bulb and to the average values for non-parasitized specimens of the same size. The results suggest that, although the olfactory rosette does not seem severely damaged, the presence of the parasite could deeply affect the highly efficient water flow within the nasal chamber, potentially causing partial olfactory impairment.
On the role of (and threat to) natural history museums in mammal conservation: an African small mammal perspective
Abstract. The global environment is faced with growing threats from anthropogenic disturbance, propelling the Earth into a 6th mass extinction. For the world’s mammals, this is reflected in the fact that 25% of species are threatened with some risk of extinction. During this time of species loss and environmental alteration, the world’s natural history museums (NHMs) are uniquely poised to provide novel insight into many aspects of conservation. This review seeks to provide evidence of the importance of NHMs to mammal conservation, how arguments against continued collecting of physical voucher specimens is counterproductive to these efforts, and to identify additional threats to collecting with a particular focus on small mammals across Africa. NHMs contribute unique data for assessing mammal species conservation status through the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened species. However, NHMs’ contributions to mammal conservation go well beyond supporting the IUCN Red List, with studies addressing topics such as human impacts, climate change, genetic diversity, disease, physiology, and biodiversity education. Increasing and diverse challenges, both domestic and international, highlight the growing threats facing NHMs, especially in regards to the issue of lethally sampling individuals for the purpose of creating voucher specimens. Such arguments are counterproductive to conservation efforts and tend to reflect the moral opposition of individual researchers than a true threat to conservation. The need for continued collecting of holistic specimens of all taxa across space and time could not be more urgent, especially for underexplored biodiversity hotspots facing extreme threats such as the Afrotropics.
Variations in the trophic niches of the golden jackal Canis aureus across the Eurasian continent associated with biogeographic and anthropogenic factors
Abstract. Our aim was to determine biogeographical patterns in the food habits of golden jackals by first reviewing their dietary patterns at the continental scale and then analysing associations between the food items in their diets and geographical, regional productivity and land-use variables, using multivariate analyses. Our findings indicated that jackals generally consume small mammals as a staple food but shift to consume plant materials or the carcasses of larger mammals when food resources are scarce owing to changes in the regional climate and productivity, as well as anthropogenic habitat modifications. Disruption of natural food resources (specifically small mammals) due to anthropogenic landscape modifications provokes dietary shifts in golden jackals, potentially increasing their reliance on anthropogenic resources. Consequently, conservation of their habitat in combination with waste management to decrease the accessibility to anthropogenic resources is required to resolve human-jackal conflicts.
Factors affecting the composition of rodent assemblages in the North Uluguru Mountains, Tanzania
Abstract. The Uluguru Mountains, which are part of the Eastern Arc Mountains, is a hotspot for diversity and an important area for the conservation of biodiversity in Tanzania, but faces increasing disturbance due to anthropogenic activities leading to a high rate of forest degradation and fragmentation. Changes in habitat structure have caused significant changes in the faunal assemblage of the region. However, information on these effects in the Uluguru Mountains is currently lacking. We conducted a survey of the small rodent assemblage on the Uluguru Mountains in three different habitats: forest, fallow, and cultivated land along two elevation gradients: 900-1,400 and 1,500-2,000 m a.s.l. Additionally, we recorded the habitat structure for each transect by looking at grass cover, tree density and shrub density. Generalised linear mixed models were used to examine the effects of habitat structure on both species richness as well as abundance. Our results revealed that, even while species richness remained similar over the whole study area, the species composition significantly changed depending on habitat structure. This finding arose particularly from changes in the numbers of Praomys delectorum and Mastomys natalensis, with the latter more abundant in cultivated and fallow land but not in forest, where P. delectorum is more abundant. This outcome may indicate that an increase in forest degradation and expansion of agriculture could have an impact on rodent assemblage and potentially on their population dynamics.
Rodent species composition, relative abundance, and habitat association in the Mabira Central Forest Reserve, Uganda
Abstract. A study was conducted in Mabira Central Forest Reserve in Uganda to determine rodent species composition, relative abundance, and habitat association. A total of 1,030 rodents belonging to 14 species were captured on 10,584 trap nights. Rodent species recorded include: Lophuromys stanleyi, Hylomyscus stella, Praomys jacksoni, Mastomys natalensis, Lophuromys ansorgei, Lemniscomys striatus, Aethomys hindei, Mus triton, Mus minutoides, Deomys ferrugineus, Gerbilliscus kempi, Rattus rattus, Grammomys kuru, and Hybomys univittatus. Overall, L. stanleyi (23.7%) was the most dominant species followed by H. stella, P. jacksoni, and M. natalensis. Species richness and evenness was highest in the regenerating forest habitat and least in the intact forest habitat. Rodent abundance was significantly affected by habitat type. The regenerating habitat had the highest number of animals, while the lowest numbers were observed in the depleted forest habitat. Species diversity was higher in regenerating forest habitat and lowest in the intact forest. The three habitats appeared distinct in terms of rodent species composition and there was a strong association between the two trapping grids in the same habitat type. All ordination plots showed that different rodent species consistently associated with distinct habitats. Habitat type and seasonal changes influenced rodent composition, relative abundance and habitat association. Composition of rodent community reflected the level of habitat degradation and can be used as a proxy for evaluating the biodiversity of lowland tropical forests.
Factors influencing the distribution and abundance of small rodent pest species in agricultural landscapes in Eastern Uganda
Abstract. Small rodents are increasingly gaining importance as agricultural pests, with their distribution and abundance known to vary across landscapes. This study aimed at identifying ecological factors in the landscape that may influence small rodent distribution and abundance across agricultural landscapes in Uganda. This information may be used to inform the development of adaptive control measures for small rodent pests. Small rodent trapping surveys were conducted in three agro-ecosystem landscapes: Butaleja, Mayuge and Bulambuli districts in Eastern Uganda between November 2017 to June 2018 covering both dry and wet seasons. Data on small rodent abundance and richness, vegetation characteristics, land use/cover characteristics, farm management practices and soil characteristics were collected from quadrats. Additionally, Geographic Information System and remote sensing were used to determine vegetation characteristics (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index – NDVI) and land use/cover from satellite images. Our results showed that crop field state (including hygiene, crop type and growth stage) is the most important variable with an overall relative importance of 34.4% prediction value for the abundance of Mastomys natalensis across the landscape studied. In terms of number of species encountered (species richness), results showed field crop status scoring highest with an overall relative importance of 39.8% at predicting small rodent species richness. Second in importance for overall rodent abundance was percentage composition soil silt particles with 15.6% and 18.1% for species richness and abundance respectively. Our findings have important implications for small rodent management, where land use characteristics, especially field crop state, is a critical factor as different conditions tend to affect rodent abundances differently. The study thus recommends that control efforts should be planned to consider field crop state; i.e. field hygiene where fields should be kept free of weeds to eliminate potential rodent breeding/habitation sites thus lowering rates of reproduction and population increase.
Anomalies and pathological changes of skulls and dentition of wild small mammal species from Germany
Abstract. Skulls, jaws and teeth of wild terrestrial small mammals (Sciuridae, Soricidae, Erinaceidae, Talpidae, Gliridae, Arvicolidae, Muridae) are occasionally affected by anomalies and pathologies. The present study documents a total of 362 anomalies and 122 pathological changes across 20 different species. These are all based on data published in Germany, supplemented by our own records. Cases were classified into 14 different categories, according to bone and dental anomalies, fractures and inclusions, bone proliferation, dental disease and extreme wear of teeth. An additional category to specifically account for bone proliferation of the skull was not needed, but such findings are to be expected. The most frequent finding was abnormal tooth growth, particularly the elongation of the upper incisors. In individual cases, there was evidence that small mammals are able to recover even from serious injuries to the skull.
Activity patterns of aoudad (Ammotragus lervia) in a Mediterranean habitat
Abstract. There is increasing recognition of the occurrence of non-native species that are invasive and potentially contribute to biodiversity loss. A two-year camera trap survey was undertaken on Mountain Mosor, Croatia to determine the daily and seasonal activity patterns of recently introduced non-native aoudad (Ammotragus lervia). Aoudad were most active in open rocky habitats and least active in forest habitats. The effect of habitat on the recorded number of aoudad was significant, while the effects of month and the interaction month × habitat were not. The results showed a typical bimodal activity pattern of aoudad, with a modest peak in activity between 05:00 and 09:00 a.m., and a second, more pronounced activity peak between 5:00 and 7:00 p.m. Since the native habitat of aoudad is similar to that in the Mediterranean region, the inferred range of daily and seasonal activities show that the species is well adapted to the new habitat.
Abstract. The abundance and microhabitat use of rodents were investigated in four different habitats: two rain-fed crop fields with differing stone bund density, an irrigated field and bushland. A total of 444 individual small mammals belonging to six rodent and one shrew species were recorded in trapping grids and line transects. Of these, 230 individuals (52%) belonged to three pest rodent species of crop fields in northern Ethiopia: Stenocephalemys albipes (65%), Mastomys awashensis (25%) and Arvicanthis niloticus (10%). Population abundance of the three species was higher in the early dry season compared to the rainy season. While the bushland was significantly (p < 0.05) favoured by S. albipes and M. awashensis in both seasons, the irrigated field was preferred by Arvicanthis niloticus in the early dry season. In the early dry season, the microhabitat use of A. niloticus was strongly associated with the type of ground cover (herb) (R2adj = 0.152, P < 0.01). While M. awashensis was associated with vegetation density (R2adj = 0.13, P < 0.01), S. albipes was associated with vegetation cover (R2adj = 0.102, P < 0.001). The findings indicate that co-occurring pest rodent species prefer different microhabitats. Understanding their co-occurrence particularly in crop fields is vital for crop protection as they are known serious agricultural pests in northern Ethiopia.
Integrative taxonomic revision of the Ethiopian endemic rodent genus Stenocephalemys (Muridae: Murinae: Praomyini) with the description of two new species
Abstract. Ethiopian rats (genus Stenocephalemys) represent a monophyletic group of Ethiopian endemic rodents that diverged in the Ethiopian Highlands during the Pleistocene. Because of the frequent occurrence of so-called reticulate evolution (i.e. repeated hybridization of partially diverged populations), their taxonomy has not been adequately resolved, despite the fact that they belong to the most abundant rodent genus in Ethiopia and are important as pests and carriers of pathogens (e.g. hantaviruses). Here we analysed material for 623 Stenocephalemys specimens using integrative taxonomy composed of genomic analyses (388 nuclear markers and complete mitogenomes), 2D-geometric morphometry of skulls and classical morphometry of external traits. The genus consists of six clearly defined gene pools (= species), characterized by specific morphology, ecology and distribution. Two of them, described here as new species, live in fragmented populations in Afro-alpine habitats in the north-western part of the Ethiopian Highlands. We also showed that mitochondrial DNA is not applicable as a universal diagnostic tool for species discrimination in Stenocephalemys, because of multiple cases of mitochondrial introgression. This finding illustrates the utility of the genus as a suitable model for future studies of mito-nuclear coevolution along an elevational gradient.
Thermal independence of energy management in a tailed amphibian
Abstract. The relationship between the minimum metabolic requirements (standard metabolic rate, SMR) and energy costs of non-mandatory physiological functions and behaviour is fundamental for understanding species responses to changing environmental conditions. Theory predicts that ectotherms manage their energy budget depending on whether the relationship between SMR and energy available for other tasks is negative (allocation model), neutral (independent model), or positive (performance model). Energy management has received more attention in endotherms than in ectotherms, where metabolic-behavioural relations may be affected by body temperature variation. We examined the predictions of energy management models at four body temperatures in alpine newts, Ichthyosaura alpestris, under laboratory conditions. High SMR reduced the amount of energy dedicated to food digestion and locomotor activity. The maximum metabolic rate for food digestion was positively related to SMR, while its relationship with locomotor activity was inconclusive. Body temperature affected the intercept but not the slope of these relationships. We conclude that (i) newts manage their energy budget according to the allocation model, (ii) energy management is insensitive to body temperature variation, and (iii) determining energy management models using indirect estimates may be misleading. These findings improve our understanding of the eco-evolutionary significance of SMR variation in tailed amphibians and other ectotherms.
Abstract. Macropod Progressive Periodontal Disease (MPPD), colloquially referred to as “lumpy jaw”, is a commonly observed disease in captive macropods. However, the prevalence of this disease in the wild is largely unknown. A systematic study of MPPD in wild macropods would provide an indication of the endemic presence of this disease in wild populations, and could assist those managing disease in captive populations, by highlighting potential risk factors for disease development. Utilising kangaroos culled as part of a population management program, this study used visual observation and computer tomography (CT) of skulls to investigate the prevalence of MPPD in wild western grey kangaroos (Macropus fuliginosus) from the Perth metropolitan region, Western Australia. The sample suitable for visual and CT analysis comprised 121 specimens, 71 (58.7%) male and 50 (41.3%) female, with the mean age for all 121 specimens being 4.5 years (±2.63 SD). No evidence of MPPD was detected in any of the specimens examined. Overabundance may not be associated with the development of MPPD, as previously considered, and age-related factors should not be eliminated. This results may reflect low susceptibility to MPPD in western grey kangaroos, given low prevalence is reported in this species in captive populations. Further investigation into species-specificity is recommended, and should include samples with soft tissue to improve sensitivity of disease detection. Surveillance of MPPD in wild populations of macropods helps to improve our understanding of the biological significance, development and potential spread of this disease. Notably, this information may assist in the management of MPPD in captive populations, and may have a positive impact on both the welfare and conservation of macropods in captivity.
Camouflage in arid environments: the case of Sahara-Sahel desert rodents
Abstract. Deserts and semi-deserts, such as the Sahara-Sahel region in North Africa, are exposed environments with restricted vegetation coverage. Due to limited physical surface structures, these open areas provide a promising ecosystem to understand selection for crypsis. Here, we review knowledge on camouflage adaptation in the Sahara-Sahel rodent community, which represents one of the best documented cases of phenotype-environment convergence comprising a marked taxonomic diversity. Through their evolutionary history, several rodent species from the Sahara-Sahel have repeatedly evolved an accurate background matching against visually-guided predators. Top-down selection by predators is therefore assumed to drive the evolution of a generalist, or compromise, camouflage strategy in these rodents. Spanning a large biogeographic extent and surviving repeated climatic shifts, the community faces extreme and heterogeneous selective pressures, allowing formulation of testable ecological hypotheses. Consequently, Sahara-Sahel rodents poses an exceptional system to investigate which adaptations facilitate species persistence in a mosaic of habitats undergoing climatic change. Studies of these widely distributed communities permits general conclusions about the processes driving adaptation and can give insights into how diversity evolves.
Abstract. During the last two decades, genotyping of African rodents has revealed important hidden diversity within morphologically cryptic genera, such as Rhabdomys. Although the distribution of Rhabdomys is known historically, its diversity has been revealed only recently, and information about the distribution range of its constituent taxa is limited. The present study contributes to clarifying the distribution of Rhabdomys taxa, primarily in southern Africa, and identifies gaps in our knowledge, by: 1) compiling the available information on its distribution; and 2) significantly increasing the number of geo-localised and genotyped specimens (n = 2428) as well as the localities (additional 48 localities) sampled. We present updated distribution maps, including the occurrence and composition of several contact zones. A long-term monitoring of three contact zones revealed their instability, and raises questions as to the role of demography, climate, and interspecific competition on species range limits. Finally, an analysis of external morphological traits suggests that tail length may be a reliable taxonomic trait to distinguish between mesic and arid taxa of Rhabdomys. Tail length variation in Rhabdomys and other rodents has been considered to be an adaptation to climatic (thermoregulation) and/or to habitat (climbing abilities) constraints, which has still to be confirmed in Rhabdomys.
Abstract. The use of livestock guarding dogs (LGDs) has been widely advocated as a responsible tool for reducing livestock predation and conserving wildlife. However, their hidden ecological costs have rarely been investigated. We analysed scats (n = 183) from six LGDs and visited Global Positioning System (GPS) location clusters (n = 352) from nine GPS-collared LGDs to reconstruct their diet and assess impacts on wildlife and livestock in Namaqualand, South Africa. Wild mammals, including 10 native species, and small-livestock were the main secondary foods (i.e. besides dog food pellets). A total of 90% of scats and one third of GPS clusters investigated had associated animal remains. When accompanied by a human attendant, fewer LGD scats contained animal matter (39.9%; of which 32.3% wild mammals and 4.6% livestock), in contrast to scats of LGDs on their own (93.2%; 14.4% wild mammals, 75.4% livestock). Similarly, few clusters of accompanied LGDs included animal remains (5.7%; of which 43.8% wild mammals and 31.3% livestock), whereas unaccompanied dogs clustered frequently at carcasses (92.4%; 16% wild mammals, 74% livestock). While sample sizes were relatively small and some dogs might have scavenged, we emphasize the importance of rigorous training and intensive monitoring of LGDs to correct unwanted predation behaviour and to maximize their ecological and protective benefits.
Abstract. Colour pattern influences behaviour and affects survival of organisms through perception of light reflectance. Spectrophotometric methods used to study colour optimise precision and accuracy of reflectance across wavelengths, while multiband photographs are generally used to assess the complexity of colour patterns. Using standardised photographs of sand lizards (Lacerta agilis), we compare how colours characterised using point measurements (using the photographs, but simulating spectrophotometry) on the skin differ from colours estimated by clustering pixels in the photograph of the lizard’s body. By taking photographs in the laboratory and in the field, the experimental design included two 2-way comparisons. We compare point vs. colour clustering characterisation and influence of illumination in the laboratory and in the field. We found that point measurements adequately represented the dominant colour of the lizard. Where colour patterning influenced measurement geometry, image analysis outperformed point measurement with respect to stability between technical replicates on the same animal. The greater colour variation derived from point measurements increased further under controlled laboratory illumination. Both methods revealed lateral colour asymmetry in sand lizards, i.e. that colours subtly differed between left and right flank. We conclude that studies assessing the impact of colour on animal ecology and behaviour should utilise hyperspectral imaging, followed by image analysis that encompasses the whole colour pattern.
Abstract. Colour traits can be elaborated through sexual selection and have potential to drive reproductive isolation. Male three-spined sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus) express striking visual signals to attract choosy females during courtship, typically expressed as red carotenoid-based pigmentation on their throat and jaw during the breeding season, along with blue eyes and blue/green flanks. The extent and intensity of red colouration in males have been linked to fitness benefits to females, including body condition, parasite resistance, parental ability and nest defence. In some populations in the Pacific Northwest of North America, male three-spined sticklebacks express melanic nuptial colouration. In these populations, male possess black throats instead of red, and have dark or black bodies. Melanic males are associated with waterbodies that are red-shifted due to the presence of tannins, where the ambient light environment is dominated by long wavelengths. Here we report the first discovery outside North America of melanic populations of three-spined sticklebacks on the island of North Uist in the Scottish Hebrides, on the northwest Atlantic coast of Europe. These populations are associated with a hotspot of stickleback morphological diversity and occur in association with red-shifted waterbodies.
Dhati Welel virus, the missing mammarenavirus of the widespread Mastomys natalensis
Abstract. The Natal multimammate mouse, Mastomys natalensis, occurs throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Mitochondrial phylogenetics indicate this species was fragmented during the Pleistocene, forming six matrilineage phylogroups: A-I, A-II, A-III, B-IV, B-V, B-VI with distinct ranges. All except the A-III lineage are identified as natural reservoirs of mammarenaviruses. M. natalensis A-III is found in western Ethiopia and is the only lineage reported in the country. While screening 203 small mammal samples from Dhati Welel National Park for mammarenaviruses, we detected mammarenavirus RNA in nine samples, eight from M. natalensis and one from M. awashensis. A sequence similarity search and phylogenetic analysis confirmed the M. natalensis mitochondrial DNA belongs to the A-III lineage. We characterised the complete virus genome, which showed typical mammarenavirus organisation. Phylogenetic analysis indicated it clusters with Gairo virus found in M. natalensis B-IV in Tanzania, while showing sufficient divergence from other mammarenaviruses to be considered as a new species, for which we proposed the name Dhati Welel. Additional sampling in the M. natalensis A-III phylogeographic range should help determine whether the detection of the virus in M. awashensis represents a local spill-over or if the virus circulates in both Mastomys species.
Rodents of Choke Mountain and surrounding areas (Ethiopia): the Blue Nile gorge as a strong biogeographic barrier
Abstract. Faunal studies of rodent assemblages from the areas on and around Choke Mountain (north-western Ethiopia) were conducted during two field seasons in 2012 and 2018. Here we present results of a genetic study of nine rodent species, and evaluate their genetic diversity and evolutionary relationships between conspecific populations from neighbouring montane massifs. Results of comparative analysis of phylogeographic patterns in Lophuromys, Desmomys, Stenocephalemys and Tachyoryctes have emphasized the role of the Blue Nile gorge as a strong biogeographic barrier, separating “northern” and “southern” independently evolved populations. Results of genetic analysis also revealed the presence of a new taxon of Dendromus, presumably belonging to a new species. Our study allows re-evaluation this area as an important “hotspot” of Ethiopian small mammal biodiversity.
The 13th African Small Mammal Symposium in Mekelle, Ethiopia, and the evolution of these meetings
The effect of elevation on haematocrit in Ethiopian rodents
Abstract. Key adaptations enabling mammals to cope with oxygen deficiency at high elevations relate to oxygen transfer into the blood. Among others, the efficiency of this mechanism depends on haematocrit (Hct, the volumetric fraction of red blood cells in blood). Although blood of high-elevation mammals is usually characterised by normal or slightly increased Hct, there are contradictory findings from studies along different elevational gradients. The aim of this study was to explore variability of Hct at both inter- and intraspecific levels in six rodent species from lower and higher elevations of Choke Mountain in Ethiopia. We found that Stenocephalemys sp. A from higher elevation had higher Hct than its congener Stenocephalemys albipes from lower elevation and a similar but weaker tendency was observed intraspecifically in Lophuromys simensis. Furthermore, Hct among four species occupying the high-elevation Afroalpine zone was comparable, and higher than in animals from lower elevations. Higher Hct in the three Afroalpine specialists probably contributes to local adaptations for life in high elevation environments under hypobaric hypoxia.
Genetic diversity and origins of invasive black rats (Rattus rattus) in Benin, West Africa
Abstract. Black rats (Rattus rattus) are native to the Indian subcontinent but have now colonized most continents and islands following human movements and international trade. They are involved in the circulation and transmission to humans of many zoonotic agents as well as in massive damage to food stocks and native biodiversity in the regions they have settled. This study investigates the genetic diversity and possible origins of black rats from Benin, West Africa. We sequenced the complete mitochondrial cytochrome b gene in 90 individuals from nine localities in Benin. These sequences were subsequently compared to 390 other cytochrome b haplotypes from individuals from various European, Asian, American and African localities. Nucleotide polymorphism analysis, haplotype network and maximum likelihood phylogenetic tree reconstructions showed low mitochondrial diversity in black rats from Benin. Our results also suggest at least two distinct introduction events: one introduction probably occurred during the spice trade (15th-17th century) through the Indies Road connecting Europe to Asia. Other introduction events could have occurred more recently following the intensification of globalized trade from the eighteenth century, and onwards.
Small mammal inventory in the Lama forest reserve (south Benin), with new cytogenetical data
Abstract. The Lama forest is the largest natural forest in southern Benin, and one of the last remnant forests within the Dahomey Gap. It harbours several species of major importance in terms of conservation. Small mammals are known to represent more than 80% of the African mammalian species diversity but they have received little attention in Benin. In this article we present the results of the first terrestrial small mammal species inventory (murid rodents and shrews) in the Lama forest. In September and October 2007, we captured 280 small mammals belonging to 12 species, identified by morphological and genetic analysis. We also provide detailed cytogenetic data for six of the 12 captured species. For five of them, we compare our data with previously published karyotypes, and for the sixth one (Hylomyscus pamfi), the karyotype is published here for the first time. Two of the captured species are closed-forest specialists (Praomys misonnei, H. pamfi), and H. pamfi is endemic to the Dahomey Gap region. Our results are congruent with those obtained on other animal groups, and highlight the importance of the Lama forest for the conservation of the country’s forest biodiversity.
Integrative taxonomy of Guinean Lemniscomys species (Rodentia, Mammalia)
Abstract. In the Republic of Guinea (West Africa), the diversity and distribution of striped grass mice of the genus Lemniscomys is poorly known. In the course of long-term field surveys from 2003 to 2011, we collected 97 specimens from various regions of Guinea with the aim of characterizing the morphological and genetic diversity of the genus in the country. We performed an integrative study that allowed us to detect the existence of at least two species in the collected specimens. Two molecular clades, corresponding to different karyotypes, were recovered. By comparison with type specimens and using classical morphometric analyses, we are able to confirm the presence of L. linulus and L. striatus in Guinea. We redescribe the skull and dental characters of the poorly known L. linulus and report its standard karyotype formula (2N = 56, NFa = 66). We did not collect any L. zebra in Guinea despite its presence in South Mali. In conclusion, the distributions of L. striatus and L. linulus described for Guinea and, including the previously reported L. bellieri, three species are now known to occur in this country. We recognise these three species as valid pending further revision of the genus at a pan-African scale.
Caught on camera: circumstantial evidence for fatal mobbing of an avian brood parasite by a host
Abstract. Hosts have evolved a multiplicity of defensive responses against avian brood parasites. One of them is mobbing behaviour which often includes direct contact attacks. These aggressive strikes may not only distract the parasites but may also be fatal to them, as documented by cases of dead brood parasite females found near host nests. Here, we present the first video-recording of a great reed warbler (Acrocephalus arundinaceus) host whose vigorous nest defence appears to directly lead to the death of a female common cuckoo (Cuculus canorus). We suggest that the chance of parasite death probably rises with the presence of unfavourable factors, such as water below the nest. Our observation supports previous suggestions that hosts may pose a lethal danger to their parasites.
Book Review - Kruuk H. 2019: The Call of Carnivores, Travels of a Field Biologist
Abstract. The research was aimed at examining 230 skulls and mandibles (113 males and 117 females) of the red fox (Vulpes vulpes) in the territory of the Republic of Lithuania. The object of the study was macroscopic evaluation of dental and periodontal pathologies, including changes in the structure of the skull and mandible. The most common teeth pathology was indicated to be hypodontia 13.27% in males and 5.98% in females (excluding M3 molar tooth). The hypodontia of the M3 was found to be common in males 6.19% and 7.69% in females. The findings of the research reveal that pathologies such as hyperdontia, dental fractures, enamel hypoplasia, abrasion, periodontitis stage 3 and stage 4 were less common: 1-4% in both males and females. In four skulls and mandibles of females a complex of severe pathologies of teeth and periodontium were found. There were no similar cases observed in males. This was the only significant difference between males and females. Other pathologies, including fractures of the skull or mandible, atypical form of foramen magnum, and changes in bone structure were rare overall, though slightly more common in males but not significantly.
Abstract. Multimammate mice of the genus Mastomys are widespread in sub-Saharan Africa and occur in a wide range of open habitats. Representatives of this genus are the most common African rodents, the main vertebrate agricultural pests and vectors of human pathogens. In Ethiopia, the biogeographically most complex eastern African country, several species have been reported, but their distribution has never been described because of their cryptic morphology. Here we present genetically identified species from 377 Ethiopian Mastomys specimens and analyse their distributional patterns. The genus, represented by four species, inhabits most of the country, with the exception of the highest mountains and dry areas, such as the Afar triangle and the Somali region. For the first time we document M. kollmannspergeri from a single locality in the northernmost part of Ethiopia. Three previously recorded species are more widespread – M. erythroleucus was found at 32 localities, M. natalensis at 13 localities and the Ethiopian endemic species M. awashensis at 18 localities. Phylogenetic analysis of mitochondrial cytochrome b gene sequences indicates that only one of the six phylogroups of M. natalensis and one of the four phylogroups of M. erythroleucus are represented in Ethiopia. Haplotype network analysis indicates two subclades of Ethiopian M. erythroleucus separated by the Ethiopian Rift Valley. Using presence records, we constructed distribution models for the species and analysed the level of overlap. The predicted distribution shows most overlap between M. awashensis and M. natalensis, which is in agreement with empirical data as both species were found in sympatry at four localities. A medium level of overlap was predicted between M. natalensis and M. erythroleucus and both species were found co-existing at two localities. This study not only presents the first detailed distribution of cryptic Mastomys species, but also clearly identifies multimammate mice as model taxa for future evolutionary studies (e.g. the evolution of co-existence or host-parasite interactions) and indicates the regions suitable for such studies.
Abstract. Parasites commonly manipulate host behaviour to increase transmission success between hosts. While most behavioural changes comprise slight alterations to host activity patterns and habitat use, some represent impressive alterations to routine behaviour which, while having direct positive effects on parasite transmission, compromise host survival. Here, we report conspicuous risky behaviour in an African annual killifish, Nothobranchius furzeri, infected by metacercariae of a strigeid trematode, Apatemon sp., residing in their cranial cavity. We demonstrate a striking contrast in the spatial and temporal behavioural responses of fish from populations naturally infected with Apatemon sp. and fish from two control populations with either a similar baseline parasite fauna but lacking Apatemon, or an overall low-level of infection. During routine activity, fish from Apatemon-infected populations positioned themselves just below the water surface, while other fish spent most of their time near the bottom. During a simulated avian attack, killifish from Apatemon-infected populations jumped above the water surface, moved in an uncoordinated manner, and rotated in the upper water layer, while fish from the control populations rapidly escaped into deeper water and ceased moving. The same self-exposing behaviour (jumping out of the water and lying on floating lily pads for extended periods) was also observed under natural conditions. Such behaviour greatly facilitates location of Apatemon-infected host fish by avian definitive hosts, especially in turbid pools. Moreover, the nothobranchiid killifish host’s own life history, i.e. an extremely short lifespan limited to several months, may represent an important driver in the evolution of behavioural manipulation.
Abstract. Sibling competition leading to physiological stress and elevated allostatic load is driven by asymmetrical development and limited resources. To investigate these predictions, we studied broods of the lesser kestrel Falco naumanni, from a nest-box population in Armenio, Central Greece. For each nestling reared in nest-boxes, we noted the age (in days) since hatching, measured the wing chord length and body mass. We also clipped the central right rectrix for ptilochronology for subsequent analysis in the laboratory. We measured 206 nestlings from 61 broods (range 2-5 nestlings). In the case of nestlings < 18 days old (n = 198, 96.1% of all) we also measured the length of feathers. As a measure of body condition, we used the residuals of the linear regression for the relationship between wing chord length and body mass, while the growth bar width of feathers was used as a second, independent index of body size and allostatic load. A GLMM and information-theory criterion showed that both measures of body condition decreased incrementally from the first sibling to the most subordinate in the brood. Body condition of subordinate siblings was influenced by the number of siblings in the nest; i.e. the larger the brood size the greater the discrepancy in body condition between siblings. At the same time, we did not find any influence of sex on either measure of fitness. Thus, our results indirectly support the hypothesis that sibling competition may cause physiological developmental stress which is reflected in decreased body condition and increased allostatic load for younger nestlings.
Abstract. Understanding the diets of predators, prey selection and their impact on prey populations is pivotal to investigations on the ecology of predator and prey species. In this study, we observed a hand-reared European otter (Lutra lutra) foraging in the wild, in order to identify the type of prey captured by the predator. The study was carried out between March and June 2001 in a diverse range of natural otter habitats in Białowieża Forest (NE Poland). We found that tadpoles represented an important part of the otter’s diet in June, when their frequency of occurrence and biomass reached 38% and 11%, respectively. During spring, tadpoles were less common than other types of prey, such as adult amphibians, fish, or aquatic Coleoptera. Otter diet varied among months and there were differences in the main prey type captured among water body types. Our results highlight the need to develop methods that enable the identification of tadpoles and other cryptic seasonal food items in riparian predator diets.
Abstract. Rhodeus cyanorostris sp. nov. and R. nigrodorsalis sp. nov. are described from two tributaries of the River Yangtze, in Sichuan and Jiangxi Provinces, China, respectively. Both species have a small number of branched dorsal-fin rays (both with a mode of 8) and anal-fin rays (mode of 7-8 and 8, respectively), which makes them easily distinguished from all congeners. Rhodeus cyanorostris sp. nov. differs from R. nigrodorsalis sp. nov. in having more predorsal scales (14-16 vs. 12-13), fewer pectoral-fin rays (10-11 vs. 12), a shorter major axis of the eggs (2.5-2.8 mm vs. mostly 3.3-3.5 mm), absence of two rows of light spots on the dorsal-fin rays (vs. presence), and the absence of a black blotch on the dorsal fin in adult males (vs. presence). The breeding season in winter of the two new species is unique among the Acheilognathinae.
Cooperative defence of colonial breeding house martins (Delichon urbicum) against nest-usurping house sparrows (Passer domesticus)
Abstract: The usurpation of house martin nests by house sparrows has previously been reported. However, our study demonstrates how neighbouring house martins cooperatively defended against nest-usurping attempts by house sparrows. House martins collectively helped a conspecific pair build their nest at a much faster pace than would be possible for the breeding pair alone, within several hours as compared to a couple of days, in order to overcome the continued attempts of house sparrows to usurp the partially built nest. In our study, between the two breeding seasons of 2018 and 2019, the number of breeding house martins at the study site decreased by almost 63% while in contrast the number of house sparrow breeding pairs increased almost six-fold. The number of usurped nests by house sparrows was comparatively higher in 2019 as compared to 2018.
Review of the lampreys (Petromyzontidae) in Bosnia and Herzegovina: a current status and geographic distribution
Abstract: The general status of lampreys (family Petromyzontidae) in Bosnia and Herzegovina was reviewed to determine the species composition and geographical distribution of this group in the region. This paper reviews the available literature to provide a critical analysis of the current status of lamprey species. According to the available data, their status can be considered as indeterminate, largely due to limited published records. While eight species are recorded as present in the region (Eudontomyzon danfordi, E. mariae, E. vladykovi, Lampetra fluviatilis, L. planeri, L. soljani, Lethenteron zanandreai, Petromyzon marinus), only three species (E. vladykovi, L. soljani, P. marinus) are confirmed to occur. Their distribution is recorded in waters of both the Danube and the Adriatic Sea catchments. Given the deficiencies in our understanding of the taxonomic status of some populations and knowledge of the geographical distribution of lampreys inhabiting both catchments, research focused on improving understanding of the phylogenetic, morphological and phenotypic traits of lampreys in Bosnia and Herzegovina is warranted to resolve these uncertainties. Problems related to threats and conservation, and future perspectives for protective management strategies are discussed. This paper provides the context for future biodiversity conservation and management with regard to lamprey species in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Endangered weatherfish (Misgurnus fossilis) age and growth is affected by the size of the watercourses
Abstract: The age and growth of weatherfish (Misgurnus fossilis), an endangered and protected freshwater fish with a poorly known life history, was studied in two watercourses (the River Ner and the Nowy Rów canal, Poland). The weight, length and sagittal otoliths of 166 specimens collected in April 2015 were measured for weight-length relationships, ageing and back-calculation of length at age. At both sites sex ratio did not differ from 1:1. Weatherfish otoliths were small, elliptic (1.85 mm longer axes of the largest otolith) and the annuli were clearly visible. Female lifespan was six years but the oldest males were four and five years. In both sites populations were dominated by 2+ (the River Ner) and 3+ (the Nowy Rów canal) specimens. In general, weatherfish grows isometrically (b = 3) and the intercept of the weight-length relationship differ between study sites but not between sexes. Its total length (TL) was predicted by an interaction between sex and age, as well as capture site and age. Back-calculated estimates of TL fitted a von Bertalanffy growth function, though Taylor’s criterion showed that the asymptotic length were overestimated. Multiple comparisons of the von Bertalanffy growth function parameter revealed difference between sexes and sites.
The Journal of Vertebrate Biology is a continuation of Folia Zoologica (ISSN: 0139-7893, e-ISSN 1573-1189, 1977-2019, volumes 26-68), Zoologické Listy (Folia Zoologica, 1956-1976, volumes 5-25), Zoologické a Entomologické Listy (Folia Zoologica and Entomologica, 1952-1955, volumes 1-4, n.s.) and Entomologické Listy (Folia Entomologica, 1938-1951, volumes 1-14).
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