Although there is growing recognition of the importance of small mammals in savanna ecosystems of east Africa, the ecology and behavior of these organisms are not well known. We conducted studies on the dietary preferences of one rodent, the pouched mouse (Saccostomus mearnsi), which is the dominant small mammal in a widespread habitat in central Kenya. To establish the food preferences of this species, we: (1) conducted cafeteria trials in the laboratory whereby individual mice were offered seeds and a selection of herbaceous vegetation from the habitat; (2) surveyed the habitat for piles of vegetation clipped by these mice and identified these clippings to species; and (3) estimated the abundance of plant species in the habitat to determine if the mice were clipping species in proportion to their availability. Our results indicated that S. mearnsi prefers green vegetation to seeds, at least during wet seasons, and that it has a strong preference for forbs. In cafeteria trials, S. mearnsi chose 93 percent green vegetation and only 7 percent seeds. The forb Commelina africana was highly preferred over other food items offered. In the habitat, two forbs, C. africana and Monsonia angustifolia, constituted > 40 percent of the piles of clippings, although these two species together made up < 4 percent of the available vegetation. Grasses also were clipped frequently, although in lower proportions than their availability in the habitat. The herbivorous habits of S. mearnsi establish the potential of this species to compete for resources with ungulates, which are abundant in this habitat.
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Vol. 33 • No. 1