Wildlife Research Wildlife Research Society
Ecology, management and conservation in natural and modified habitats
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Dietary differences of the multimammate mouse, Mastomys natalensis (Smith, 1834), across different habitats and seasons in Tanzania and Swaziland

Loth S. Mulungu A G , Themb’alilahlwa A. Mahlaba B , Apia W. Massawe A , Jan Kennis C , Dieter Crauwels C , Seth Eiseb D , Ara Monadjem B , Rhodes H. Makundi A , Abdul A. S. Katakweba A , Herwig Leirs C E and Steven R. Belmain F
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Pest Management Centre, Sokoine University of Agriculture, PO Box 3110, Morogoro, Tanzania.

B Department of Biological Sciences, University of Swaziland, Private Bag 4, Kwaluseni, Swaziland.

C University of Antwerp, Evolutionary Ecology Group, Groenenborgerlaan 171, B-2020 Antwerpen, Belgium.

D National Museum of Namibia, PO Box 1203, Windhoek, Namibia.

E Danish Pest Infestation Laboratory, University of Aarhus, Department of Integrated Pest Management, Skovbrynet 14, DK-2800, Kongens Lyngby, Denmark.

F Natural Resources Institute, University of Greenwich, Central Avenue, Chatham Maritime, Kent, ME4 4TB, UK.

G Corresponding author. Email: lothmulungu@yahoo.co.uk

Wildlife Research 38(7) 640-646 https://doi.org/10.1071/WR11028
Submitted: 10 February 2011  Accepted: 4 August 2011   Published: 30 November 2011

Abstract

Context: The multimammate mouse, Mastomys natalensis (Smith, 1834), is an important agricultural pest in southern and eastern Africa where it can cause significant crop losses. Mastomys natalensis is known to consume a variety of food in response to the availability of food items. However, it is currently unknown whether maize crop growth stages affect the spatio-temporal diet of this species.

Aims: We examined the foods consumed by M. natalensis in different habitats and seasons in central Tanzania and Swaziland.

Methods: Diet was investigated in Tanzania in four different habitats (woodland, vegetable gardens, maize fields and fallow land) during different maize crop growth stages between March 2008 and February 2009. In Swaziland, this was conducted in three habitats (fallow land, cultivated fields and pristine land) during three crop growth stages (pre-planting, vegetative stage and post-harvest) between March 2008 and April 2009. Micro-histological examination of undigested fragments from the stomachs of trapped animals was made whereby the preserved stomach content was placed in a Petri dish and sorted using a 25× or 50× magnification binocular stereoscope. Stomach contents were identified as: grain and/or seeds (both grasses and maize), plant material (roots, stems and leaves), invertebrates, pods of seeds, fruits (vegetable fruit such as tomato), animal hairs and unidentified matter. If necessary, a lugol solution was used to determine the presence of starch for maize and grass seeds or grains.

Key results: In both countries, grain predominated in the diet of M. natalensis. Statistical analyses showed that there were no differences due to seasons or habitats. Therefore, the percentage volume and relative importance were the same across habitats and seasons in both countries.

Conclusions: Our findings highlight clearly that M. natalensis is a generalist species feeding on available resources depending on the season and the habitat. Its preference for grain may account for its abundance in maize plantations and confirms it as one of the major pests in crop plantations, especially grain.

Implications: This information offers a useful tool for determining the pest status in different habitats and/or seasons. The findings of this study have implications for agriculture and conservation.


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