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A Geographic Information Systems (GIS)-based analysis of modern South African rodent distributions, habitat use, and environmental tolerances

Ecology and Evolution
Wiley Blackwell (John Wiley & Sons)
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1002/ece3.384
  • Original Research
  • Ecology
  • Geography


Goals of this study were to: (1) develop distributional maps of modern rodent genera throughout the countries of South Africa, Lesotho, and Swaziland by georeferencing museum specimens; (2) assess habitat preferences for genera by cross-referencing locality position with South African vegetation; and (3) identify mean annual precipitation and temperature range where the genera are located. Conterminous South Africa including the countries of Lesotho and Swaziland Digital databases of rodent museum specimens housed in the Ditsong National Museum of Natural History, South Africa (DM), and the Division of Mammals, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, United States (NMNH), were acquired and then sorted into a subset of specimens with associated coordinate data. The coordinate data were then used to develop distributional maps for the rodent genera present within the study area. Percent habitat occupation and descriptive statistics for six climatic variables were then determined for each genus by cross-referencing locality positions with vegetation and climatic maps. This report presents a series of maps illustrating the distribution of 35 rodent genera based on 19,471 geo-referenced specimens obtained from two major collections. Inferred habitat use by taxon is provided for both locality and specimen percent occurrence at three hierarchical habitat levels: biome, bioregion, and vegetation unit. Descriptive statistics for six climatic variables are also provided for each genus based on locality and specimen percent incidence. As rodent faunas are commonly used in paleoenvironmental reconstructions, an accurate assessment of rodent environmental tolerance ranges is necessary before confidence can be placed in an actualistic model. While the data presented here represent only a subset of the modern geographic distributions for many of the taxa examined, a wide range of environmental regimes are observed, suggesting that more research is necessary in order to accurately reconstruct an environmental signature when these taxa are found in the fossil record.

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