Demographic response of the Gambian Gerbil to seasonal changes in Savannah fallow fields

Safianu Rabiu 1 , 2  and Robert K. Rose 2
  • 1 Department of Biological Sciences, Old Dominion University
  • 2 Department of Biological Sciences, Bayero University Kano, 700241, Kano, Nigeria


The Savannah gerbil, Gerbilliscus gambianus (Muridae: Gerbillinae) is important to the ecological relations of the dry grassland ecosystem of West Africa, as well as, being a zoonotic agent of human diseases and potential crop pest. We examined the impact of seasonal changes on the population dynamics of G. gambianus in northern Nigeria, by completing population estimates using capture–mark–recapture (CMR) and indirect population density indices (PDI) methods. The latter included fecal pellet counts and limited spotlightening. During 1990–1992 we collected both CMR and PDI data, and established their relationship by regression, thus calibrating the PDI values to CMR estimator. We also completed a separate, PDI only, study during 2015–2017, and estimated monthly densities indirectly by toning the PDI values to population sizes in the CMR estimator. The lowest declines (<20 gerbils ha−1) were in mid rains (July–August), and highest increases (>90 gerbils ha−1) were after the rains (October–January). Seasonal effects on densities were significant during 1990–1992 but not during 2015–2017. There were improved survival rates for both adults (0.95) and young (0.83), adult capture probability (0.56), and mean monthly recruitment of young (23) after the rains. There was no significant change in the overall population dynamic pattern of G. gambianus over a 25-year period. Because G. gambianus did not maintain colonies inside farmlands cultivated by rain or irrigation, and its tendency for large population drops in mid-rains, we are in doubt of its potential as crop pest in northern Nigeria.

If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.

  • Arslan, A., Zima, J., Koubínová, D., Yorulmaz, T., Toyran, K., Gözütok, S., 2013. Karyotypes of three gerbil species of the genera Tatera and Gerbilliscus from Turkey and Senegal. North-Western Journal of Zoology, 9: 57–62.

  • Bâ, K., Kane, M., Gauthier, P., Granjon, L., 2013. Ecology of a typical West African Sudanian savannah rodent community. African Journal of Ecology, 51: 447–455.

  • Chidumayo, E.N., 1980. Population ecology of Tatera leucogaster (Rodentia) in southern Zambia. Journal of Zoology, 190 (3): 44–49.

  • Choate, T.S., 1972. Behavioral studies on some Rhodesian rodents. Zoologica Africana, 7 (1):103–118.

  • Colangelo, P., Granjon, L., Taylor, P.J., Corti, M., 2007. Evolutionary systematics in African gerbilline rodents of the genus Gerbilliscus: inference from mitochondrial genes. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 42: 797–806.

  • Dedet, J-F., Derouin, F., Hubert, B., Schnur, L.F., Chance, L.M., 1979. Isolation of Leishmania major from Mastomys erythroleucus and Tatera gambiana in Senegal (West Africa). Annals of Tropical Medicine and Parasitology, 73 (5): 433–437.

  • Delany, M.J., 1986. Ecology of small rodents in Africa. Mammal Review, 16: 1–41.

  • Demeter, A., 1981. Small mammals and the food of owls (Tyto and Bubo) in northern Nigeria. Vertebrata Hunga-rica, 22: 127–136.

  • Ezeifeka, G.O., Umoh, J.U., Ezeokoli, C.D., Ezealor, A.U., 1987. Prevalence of Ife Virus infection in wild rodents and birds from Zaria, Nigeria. Journal of Wildlife Diseases, 23 (4): 663–665.

  • Granjon, L., Colangelo, P., Tatard, C., Colyn, M., Dobigny, G., Nicolas, V., 2012. Intrageneric relationships within Gerbilliscus (Rodentia, Muridae, Gerbillinae), with characterization of an additional West African species. Zootaxa, 33 (25): 1–25.

  • Granjon, L., Dobigny, G., 2003. The importance of cyto-taxonomy in understanding the biogeography of African rodents: Lake Chad murids as an example. Mammal Review, 33: 77–91.

  • Granjon, L., Duplantier, J-M., 2009. Les Rongeurs de l’Afrique sahelo-soudanienne [The rodents of Sahel-Sudanian African]. Collection Faune et Flore tropicale, 43. Marseille: IRD Éditions. 215 p.

  • Granjon, L., Duplantier, J-M. 2011. Guinean biodiversity at the edge: rodents in forest patches of southern Mali. Mammalian Biology, 76:583–591

  • Gratz, N.G., 1997. The burden of rodent-borne diseases in Africa south of the Sahara. Belgian Journal of Zoology, 127, Suppl. 1: 71–84.

  • Gratz, N.G., Arata, A.A., 1975. Problems associated with the control of rodents in tropical Africa. Bulletin World Health Organization, 52: 697–706.

  • Habtamu, T., Bekele, A., 2008. Habitat association of insectivores and rodents of Alatish National Park, northwestern Ethiopia. Tropical Ecology, 49 (1): 1–11.

  • Happold, D.C.D., 1987. The mammals of Nigeria. New York: Clarendon Press, Oxford University Press. 402 p.

  • Hlôška, L., Chovancová, B., Chovancová, G., Fleischer, P., 2016. Influence of climatic factors on the population dynamics of small mammals (Rodentia, Soricomorpha) on the sites affected by windthrow in the High Tatra Mts. Folia Oecologica, 43: 12–20.

  • Hubert, B., 1977. Ecologie des populations de rongeurs de Bandia (Senegal) en zone sahel osoudanienne [Rodent population ecology in the sahel zone, Bandia (Senegal)]. Terre Vie, 31: 33–100.

  • Hubert, B., Adam, F., 1975. The regulation of population dynamics of two Sehelian rodents in Senegal: a hypothesis. Annales Musee Royal de L’Afrique Centrale Sciences Zoologiques, 237: 193–201.

  • Ikeh, E.I., Ajayi, J.A., Nwana, E.J., 1995. Mastomys natalensis and Tatera gambiana as probable reservoir of human cutaneous leishmaniosis in Nigeria. Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, 89 (1): 25–26

  • Julliard, R., Leirs, H., Nils-Stenseth, N.C., Yoccoz, N.G., Prévot-Julliard, A-C., Verhagen, R.W., Verheyan. W., 1999. Survival-variation within and between functional categories of the African multimammate rat. Journal of Applied Ecology, 68: 550–561.

  • Karels, T.J., Koppel, L. Hik, D.S., 2004. Fecal pellet counts as a technique for monitoring an alpine-dwelling social rodent, the hoary marmot (Marmota caligata). Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research, 36 (4): 490–494.

  • Lötter, T.K., 2010. Sociality and reproductive biology of the Bushveld Gerbil, Gerbilliscus leucogaster. PhD thesis. Johannesburg: Faculty of Science, University of Witwatersrand. 156 p.

  • Massawe, A.W., Mulungu, L.S., Makundi, R.H., Dlamini, N., Eiseb, S.J., Kirsten, F., Mahlaba, T., Malebane, P., Maltitz, E., Monadjem, A., Taylor, P., Tutjavi, V., Belmain, S.R., 2011. Spatial and temporal population dynamics of rodents in three geographically different regions in Africa: implication for ecologically-based rodent management. African Zoology, 46 (2): 393–405.

  • Mckelvey, K.S., Pearson, D.E., 2001. Population estimation with sparse data: the role of estimators versus indices revisited. Canadian Journal of Zoology, 79: 1754–1756.

  • Meerburg, B.G., Singleton, G.R. Kijlstra, A., 2009. Rodent-borne diseases and their risks for public health. Critical Reviews in Microbiology, 35: 221–270.

  • Musser, G.G. Carleton, M.D., 2005. Superfamily Muroidea. In Wilson, D.E. Reeder, D.M. (eds). Mammal species of the world. A taxonomic and geographic reference. Vols 1 and 2. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, p. 894–1531.

  • Mwanjabe, P.S., Leirs, H., 1997. An early warning system for IPM-based rodent control in smallholder farming systems in Tanzania. Belgian Journal of Zoology, 127: 49–58.

  • Neal, B.R., 1982. Reproductive biology of three species of gerbils (Genus Tatera) in East Africa. Zeitschrift für Säugetierkunde, 47: 287–296.

  • Odhiambo, R.O., Makundi, R.H., Leirs, H. Verhagen, R., 2005. Community structure and seasonal abundance of rodents of maize farms in southwestern Tanzania. Belgium Journal of Zoology, 135: 113–118.

  • O’farrell, P.J., Donaldson, J.S., Hoffman, M.T., Mader, A.D., 2008. Small mammal diversity and density on the Bokkeveld escarpment, South Africa – implications for conservation and livestock predation. African Zoology, 43 (1): 117–124.

  • Otis, D.L., Burnham, K.P., White, G.C., Anderson, D.R., 1978. Statistical inference from capture data on closed animal populations. Wildlife Monographs, 62. Louisville: Wildlife Society. 135 p.

  • Pollock, K.H., 1982. Capture-recapture design robust to unequal probability of capture. Journal of Wildlife Management, 46: 752–757.

  • Pollock, K.H., Nichols, J.D., Brownie, C., Hines, J.E., 1990. Statistical inference for capture-recapture experiments. Wildlife monographs, 107. Blacksburg: Wildlife Society. 97 p.

  • Rabiu, S., Fisher, M., 1989. The breeding season and diet of Arvicanthis niloticus in northern Nigeria. Journal of Tropical Ecology, 5: 375–386.

  • Rabiu, S., Rose, R.K., 1997. A quantitative study of diet in three species of rodents in natural and irrigated savanna fields. Acta Theriologica, 42: 55–70.

  • Rabiu, S., Rose, R.K., 2004. Crop damage and yield loss caused by two species of rodents in irrigated fields in northern Nigeria. International Journal of Pest Management, 50: 323–326.

  • Rose, R.K., 1994. Instructions for building two live traps for small mammals. Virginia Journal of Science, 45: 151–157.

  • Rose, R.K. Gaines, M.S., 1978. The reproductive cycle of Microtus orchrogaster in eastern Kansas. Ecological Monographs, 48: 21–42.

  • Rosevear, D.R., 1969. The rodents of West Africa. Publication (British Museum (Natural History)), 677. London: Trustees of the British museum. 640 p.

  • Stokes, S.L., 1984. The Jolly-Seber method applied to age stratified population. Journal of Wildlife Management, 48: 1053–1059.

  • Taylor, K.D., 1968. An outbreak of rats in agricultural areas of Kenya in 1962. East African Agriculture and Forestry Journal, 36: 124–125.

  • Taylor, K.D., 1984. Vertebrate pest problems in Africa. In Dubock, A.C. (eds). Proceedings of a conference on the organization and practice of vertebrate pest control. 30 August3 September 1982, Elvetham Hall, Hampshire, England. Haslemere: Imperial Chemical Industries, p. 21–28.

  • Tulis, F., Ambros, M., Baláž, I., Žiak, D., Hulejová Sládkovičová, V., Miklós, P., Dudich, A., Stoll-mann, A., Klimant, P., Somogyi, B., Horváth, G., 2016. Expansion of the Striped field mouse (Apodemus agrarius) in the south-western Slovakia during 2010–2015. Folia Oecologica, 43: 64–73.

  • Vesey-Fitzgerald, D.F., 1963. The habits and habitats of small rodents in the Congo river catchment region of Zambia and Tanzania. Zoologica Africana, 2 (1): 111–122.

  • White, G.C., Anderson, D.R., Burnham, K.P., Otis, D.L., 1982. Capture-recapture and removal methods for sampling closed populations. Los Alamos, NM: Los Alamos National Laboratory. 230 p.

  • Ziegler, S., Nikolaus, G., Hutterer, R., 2002. High mammalian diversity in the newly established National Park of Upper Niger, Republic of Guinea. Oryx, 36 (1): 73–80.


Journal + Issues