Landform and surface attributes for prediction of rodent burrows in the Western Usambara Mountains, Tanzania
Previous studies suggest that rodent burrows, a proxy for rodent population are important for predicting plague risk areas. However, studies that link landform, surface attributes and rodent burrows in the Western Usambara Mountains in Tanzania are scanty. Therefore, this study was conducted in plague endemic area of the Western Usambara Mountains in northern, Tanzania, to explore the relationship between rodent burrows, and landform and surface attributes. The study was carried out in three areas corresponding to high (Lokome), medium (Lukozi) and low (Mwangoi) frequency of reported plague cases. Data were collected from 117, 200 and 170 observation sites for Lokome, Lukozi and Mwangoi, respectively using 100 m x 200 m quadrats. Remote sensing and field surveys were used to collect data on landform and surface attributes. Rodent burrows were surveyed and quantified by counting the number of burrows in 20m x 20m grids demarcated on the main 100m x 200m quadrats. The collected data were analysed in R software using boosted regression trees (BRT) technique. Rodent burrows were found at an elevation of above 1600m in the high and medium plague frequency landscapes. No burrows were found in the low plague frequency landscape situated below 1500m. BRT analysis shows a significant relationship between landform characteristics and rodent burrows in both high and medium plague frequency landscapes. Overall, elevation and hillshade are the most important determinants of rodent burrow distribution in the studied landscapes. It is concluded that in high altitudes, specific landform attributes (hill-shade, slope, elevation) and vegetation cover- favour rodent burrowing.