Dynamic edge effects in small mammal communities across a conservation-agricultural interface in Swaziland.
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Across the planet, high-intensity farming has transformed native vegetation into monocultures, decreasing biodiversity on a landscape scale. Yet landscape-scale changes to biodiversity and community structure often emerge from processes operating at local scales. One common process that can explain changes in biodiversity and community structure is the creation of abrupt habitat edges, which, in turn, generate edge effects. Such effects, while incredibly common, can be highly variable across space and time; however, we currently lack a general analytical framework that can adequately capture such spatio-temporal variability. We extend previous approaches for estimating edge effects to a non-linear mixed modeling framework that captures such spatio-temporal heterogeneity and apply it to understand how agricultural land-uses alter wildlife communities. We trapped small mammals along a conservation-agriculture land-use interface extending 375 m into sugarcane plantations and conservation land-uses at three sites during dry and wet seasons in Swaziland, Africa. Sugarcane plantations had significant reductions in species richness and heterogeneity, and showed an increase in community similarity, suggesting a more homogenized small mammal community. Furthermore, our modeling framework identified strong variation in edge effects on communities across sites and seasons. Using small mammals as an indicator, intensive agricultural practices appear to create high-density communities of generalist species while isolating interior species in less than 225 m. These results illustrate how agricultural land-use can reduce diversity across the landscape and that effects can be masked or magnified, depending on local conditions. Taken together, our results emphasize the need to create or retain natural habitat features in agricultural mosaics.