Life on high: The diversity of small mammals at high altitude in South Africa.
Biodiversity and Conservation 21 (21): 960-31152823. DOI: 10.1007/s10531-012-0340-0.
The Great Escarpment is the major mountain system in South Africa, yet very few biological surveys have been conducted outside of the well-known Drakensberg section. This is surprising given the important role that mountains play in local and global biodiversity patterns. In this study, small mammal diversity and community composition were estimated at three high altitude (>1,700 m) sites within the Sneeuberg Mountain Complex (SMC) of the Great Escarpment, South Africa from June 2009 to May 2010. The influences of selected environmental variables on diversity were also tested. Of 423 live-captures, a total of 292 unique individuals of 12 small mammal species (one shrew, one elephant shrew and 10 rodents) were identified during 5,280 trap nights. No single environmental variable could account for the variation observed in diversity measurements but vegetation height appeared to be the most important factor to influence the number of individuals captured. It is hypothesised that the high species richness and diversity of small mammals observed in the SMC compared to other parts of the Great Escarpment is due to the SMC being located in a transition zone of the Grassland and Nama-Karoo biomes. Our results suggest that the SMC could be important in conserving small mammal species from western and eastern assemblages across South Africa.