Predicting small mammal and flea abundance using landform and soil properties in a plague endemic area in Lushoto District, Tanzania
Small mammals particularly rodents, are considered the primary natural hosts of plague. Literature suggests that plague persistence in natural foci has a root cause in soils. The objective of this study was to investigate the relationship between on the one hand landforms and associated soil properties, and on the other hand small mammals and fleas in West Usambara Mountains in Tanzania, a plague endemic area. Standard field survey methods coupled with Geographical Information System (GIS) technique were used to examine landform and soils characteristics. Soil samples were analysed in the laboratory for physico-chemical properties. Small mammals were trapped on pre-established landform positions and identified to genus/species level. Fleas were removed from the trapped small mammals and counted. Exploration of landform and soil data was done using ArcGIS Toolbox functions and descriptive statistical analysis. The relationships between landforms, soils, small mammals and fleas were established by generalised linear regression model (GLM) operated in R statistics software. Results show that landforms and soils influence the abundance of small mammals and fleas and their spatial distribution. The abundance of small mammals and fleas increased with increase in elevation. Small mammal species richness also increases with elevation. A landform-soil model shows that available phosphorus, slope aspect and elevation were statistically significant predictors explaining richness and abundance of small mammals. Fleas’ abundance and spatial distribution were influenced by hill-shade, available phosphorus and base saturation. The study suggests that landforms and soils have a strong influence on the richness and evenness of small mammals and their fleas’ abundance hence could be used to explain plague dynamics in the area.