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).
For volumes before 2002 please go to the individual link below (you can generate free PDF files by selecting the desired pages in the left column, clicking on the second tab in that column and choosing "Generate PDF") or contact our librarian Alena Florianová email@example.com with your request.