Implications of potential biome boundary shifts for small mammal assemblages in the arid zone
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Desertification deteriorates the landscape functionality of rangelands, affecting the resilience of biome boundaries which have a cascade effect not only in vegetation composition and characteristics but also in animal communities. The balance between plants and small mammals are essential in maintaining the functionality (i.e. nutrient cycling, soil stability, and water infiltration) of rangeland which includes the arid Steinkopf communal rangeland. However, the landscape functionality of rangelands has not been extensively studied, especially in communal areas where desertification is a serious concern since many people farm with livestock to survive. The aim of this study was to assess landscape functionality along an arid biome boundary and its relationship to small mammal assemblages. This study further aimed to provide a local landscape perspective of the current desertification process and projected expansion of the Desert Biome into more mesic biomes in South Africa. Three replicates for three Desert Biome, ecotone and Succulent Karoo Biome sites (27 sites in total) were selected to assess landscape functionality and survey small mammal assemblages over a one-year period. The change in landscape functionality between the three areas was assessed to determine the resilience of the biome boundary to desertification. For each small mammal survey, 216 live Sherman traps were set up during the summer and winter seasons to account for breeding, mortality, and possible migration. With the data, the body condition index, population density, and diversity were quantified.