, Volume 175, Issue 2, pp 521–535 | Cite as

Foraging in space and time structure an African small mammal community

  • Mohammad A. Abu Baker
  • Joel S. Brown
Behavioral ecology - Original research


We used live-trapping and foraging to test for the effect of habitat selection and diet on structuring a community of six small mammals and one bird within the Soutpansberg, South Africa. We established grids that straddled adjacent habitats: woodland, rocky hillside, and grassland. Trapping and foraging were used to estimate abundance, habitat use, and species-specific foraging costs. The species with the highest abundance and foraging activity in a habitat, activity time, or food was considered the most efficient and presumed to have a competitive advantage. All species exhibited distinct patterns of spatial and temporal habitat preference which provided the main mechanism of coexistence, followed by diet selection. The study species were organized into three assemblages (α diversity): grassland, Rhabdomys pumilio, Dendromus melanotis, and Mus minutoides.; woodland, Aethomys ineptus and Micaelamys namaquensis; and rock-dwelling, M. namaquensis and Elephantulus myurus. Francolinus natalensis foraged in open rocky areas and under wooded islands within the grassland. Species organization across the habitats suggested that feeding opportunities are available within all habitats; however, distinct habitat preferences resulted from differing foraging aptitudes and efficiencies of the competing species. At Lajuma, species distribution and coexistence are promoted through distinct habitat preferences that were shaped by competition and species-specific foraging costs. The combination of trapping and foraging provided a mechanistic approach that integrates behavior into community ecology by ‘asking’ the animal to reveal its perspective of the environment. Using spatial and temporal foraging decisions—as behavioral indicators—enables us to guide our understanding for across-taxa species coexistence.


Africa Community structure Foraging Giving-up density Species coexistence 



We are grateful to Ian and Retha Gaigher for providing access to the site and for logistical support. Sara Emerson, Merriam Brown, and Mukundi Mukundamago (University of Venda) assisted in the field. Burt Kotler, Gordon McNickle, Douglas Morris, Bruce Patterson, and Chris Whalen provided insightful comments and discussions. Funding was provided by a grant from the Committee for Research and Exploration, National Geographic Society (grant no. 8527-08). The work was approved by the Office of Animal Care and Institutional Biosafety Committee of the University of Illinois at Chicago (protocol no. 08-016). Janne Sundell, Jana Eccard, and an anonymous reviewer provided comments that greatly improved the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Arts and SciencesQatar UniversityDohaQatar
  2. 2.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of Illinois at ChicagoChicagoUSA

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