Context. Rodent pests severely affect crop production, particularly in monocultures where one or two rodent pest species dominate. We predict higher species richness of native small mammal species in more heterogeneous mosaic (crop–fallow–bush) subsistence agro-ecosystems in Africa. Conservation and agro-ecological imperatives require that such diverse natural communities should be maintained and may benefit crop protection through limiting domination of pest species. Ecologically based rodent-management alternatives to rodenticides are urgently required and one such method (community trapping) is herein advocated.
Aims. To provide baseline information on rodent and shrew communities in agro-ecosystems in three African countries and to demonstrate efficacy of ecologically based rodent management (EBRM) in Africa (e.g. community household trapping).
Methods. Removal-trapping in a variety of agro-ecological habitats provided accurate small-mammal species lists. Intensive kill-trapping by rural agricultural communities was carried out experimentally where the efforts of communities were scientifically monitored by kill-trapping to measure impact on rodent numbers and the levels of post-harvest damage to stored grains.
Key results. Our study revealed a high diversity of endemic species in agricultural habitats in Tanzania and Namibia (but not Swaziland) and the existence of undescribed and possibly rare species, some of which may be at risk of extinction from unchecked habitat transformation for agriculture. Treatment-control studies showed that communities in three African countries could effectively reduce pest rodent populations and rodent damage by intensive trapping on a daily basis in and around the community.
Conclusions. Community trapping reduced pest rodent populations and damage to stored grains. Unlike the use of indiscriminate rodenticide, this practice is expected to have a negligible effect on beneficial non-target rodent and shrew species.
Implications. Ecologically based rodent management approaches such as community trapping will conserve beneficial non-pest rodent communities and ultimately improve crop protection.