The impact of Acacia saligna and the loss of mobile dunes on rodent populations: a case study in the Ashdod-Nizzanim sands in Israel.
The Mediterranean coastal dune habitat of Israel is diminishing rapidly, mostly due to massive urbanization, changes in habitat characteristics caused by dune stabilization and the presence of Acacia saligna, an invasive species brought to Israel for the purpose of dune stabilization. In this study we document the effect of sand stabilization on the composition of small mammal communities in the Ashdod-Nizzanim sands, Israel. We analyzed differences in species diversity and abundance for species of rodents in four types of habitat: unstable (mobile) sand dune, semi-stabilized dune, inter-dune depression and a plot of the invasive Acacia saligna. Rodent communities were found to undergo gradual changes concurrently with the stabilization of the sands. The mobile dune was the only habitat in which the strict psammophiles Jaculus jaculus and Gerbillus pyramidum were captured in abundance. No species commensal with human were captured neither in the mobile nor in the semi-stabilized dunes. However, in the inter-dune depression there was quite a large representation of Mus musculus, a rodent commensal with humans. The Acacia saligna plot had the lowest number of captures and the lowest rodent biomass calculated, with Mus musculus composing nearly half of the captures. The results of this study demonstrate that stabilization of the sands in Ashdod-Nizzanim area is associated with the disappearance of psammophile rodents and the appearance of species commensal with humans. In order to preserve the habitat for psammophile rodents, measures should be taken to halt the spread of acacia and the continuing stabilization of the sands.