Aardvark burrows: a potential resource for animals in arid and semi-arid environments
Arid and semi-arid environments are characterized by extreme fluctuations in temperature and low rainfall, which present significant challenges to the animals inhabiting these areas. However, the presence of burrows may allow animals to avoid climatic extremes and predators and may act as valuable foraging sites. We assessed the microhabitat conditions (maximum and minimum temperature, relative humidity and seed abundance) of aardvark (Orycteropus afer) burrows in relation to paired non-burrow areas at three sites in South Africa. We also describe the extent to which they are used as resources by other vertebrates. Maximum temperatures were significantly lower and minimum temperatures and relative humidity values were significantly higher inside the burrows than outside. The concentration of seeds
inside the burrows and at the paired non-burrow sites was similar. Twenty-seven vertebrate species (21 mammals, two birds, three reptiles and one amphibian) were recorded making use of the burrows and it is likely that these species accrue benefits (e.g. a buffered microclimate) from burrow use. However, our sampling was biased towards mammals and nocturnal species. Consequently, we recommend further work to establish the overall reliance of vertebrate taxa on aardvark burrows in arid and semi-arid environments.
Key words: Orycteropus afer, rodents, temperature extremes, predation, vertebrates.