Register Login

Project description

The original objective of the Muridae-project was to make the data on collections of African rats and mice of the Royal Museum for Central Africa (RMCA), the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (RBINS) and the University of Antwerp (UA) accessible to a wider public. While working on the different databases we decided to include not only the Muridae, but the other African rodent families as well.

Why Muridae?

African rats and mice adversely affect the lives of millions of Africans. These small mammals not only destroy crops, but also damage stored foods and several species are known reservoirs and vectors for several human diseases like the plague, murine typhus, Lassa fever, leptospirosis, salmonellas, several types of hemorrhagic fevers, toxoplasmosis and a number of other viral, bacterial, protozoan or helminth infections (1).

The family Muridae represents the most important and common small group of mammals that are considered pests. Of the approximately 2000 existing rodent species, about 200 have been reported to cause damage of some sort and approximately 20 genera are commonly considered a pest throughout their distribution area (2,1). Still, those few species can have an enormous impact on people's livelihood and well-being.

Rats and mice that feed on agricultural crops in the field may damage crops in all stages, from just planted seeds to mature fruits. In Tanzania alone, rodents are estimated to cause an annual maize harvest loss of 10-15%, which translates to more than 400.000 tonnes, an amount that could feed 2.3 million people for a whole year (3). Similar data for South-East Asia indicate a loss of 30 million tonnes, enough rice to feed 180 million people for a year (4). Rodent damage is not limited to cereals or other food crops such as sugar beet fields or fruit and nut orchards but can also be significant in cash crops like oil palm plantations, cotton fields or pasture grasslands (5). In addition, several rodents also cause considerable losses to stored produce, either by direct consumption or by soiling it with faeces and excrements. Postharvest losses to food crops are probably of a similar magnitude to preharvest losses but these losses are poorly documented.

A second class of rodent pest problems is situated in public health (6). Rodents are reservoirs or carriers of a number of pathogens, including macroparasites that can infect humans or livestock. It is difficult to express this burden in numbers, but for example up to 200.000 people in West Africa annually are infected with Lassa fever, a potentially lethal hemorrhagic fever caused by an arenavirus that is carried and spread by multimammate mice of the genus Mastomys (7).

Project objectives

The extensive specimen and tissue collections of the Royal Museum for Central Africa (RMCA), the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (RBINS) and the University of Antwerp (UA) provide taxonomical, ecological, geographical and genetic data, as well as data on parasitic and viral infections. The scientific importance of these collections is that – although numerous African rats and mice have been described over the last 150 years – many species descriptions are based on very few specimens (8). Ongoing studies by the applicants (and others) combine craniometrical features, chromosomal data and DNA sequences to address these taxonomical problems (e.g. 9) as propagated by the Consortium of the barcode of Life. It is clear that should these collections, and the information they contain, become accessible for the international research community, the value of these collections for taxonomical studies underpinning rodent pest-control programs would increase dramatically.

The main objective of this project is to make all relevant information on the following target groups accessible to a wider public. This objective can be obtained through the completion and transformation of currently available databases into a searchable website. It is our intention to maximize the usefulness of the created databases by allowing queries on all fields, thus not only on species names, but also on the collector, the locality, date of collecting, habitat, type of infection, availability of measurements, morphological and DNA sequence information. This combination of data has never been available for investigation and this is an excellent example of how the combination of databases may create novel opportunities for research. For example, when combined with new and future collection data, this website will not only facilitate taxonomic research, it will also provide key information for the designation of species and areas that require particular attention by epidemiologists.

This project was funded by the Belgian Biodiversity Platform, a Belspo-initiative.

  • (1) Aplin K, Singleton GR (2003). Balancing rodent management and small mammal conservation in agricultural landscapes: challenges for the present and the future. In: Singleton GR, Hinds LA, Krebs CJ, Spratt DM (eds) Rats, Mice and People: Rodent Biology and Management ACIAR, Canberra, pp 80-88
  • (2) Prakash I (1988). Rodent pest management. CRC Press, Inc., Boca Raton, USA.,
  • (3) Stenseth NC, Leirs H, Skonhoft A, Davis SA, Pech RP, Andreassen HP, Singleton GR, Lima M, Machang'u RS, Makundi RH, Zhang ZB, Brown PR, Shi DZ, Wan XR (2003). Mice, rats, and people: the bio-economics of agricultural rodent pests. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 1:367-375
  • (4) Singleton G (2003). Impacts of rodents on rice production in Asia. 45, 1-30. 2003. Report of the International Rice Research Institute IRRI
  • (5) Wood BJ (1994). Rodents in Agriculture and Forestry. in: Buckle,A. P. and Smith,R. H. Rodent pests and their control, CAB International 45-85
  • (6) Gratz NG (1994). Rodents as carriers of disease. In: Buckle AP, Smith RH (eds) Rodent pests and their control CAB International, Wallingford, pp 85-108
  • (7) Gunther S & Lenz O (2004). Lassa virus - a review. Crit Rev Clin Lab Sci. 2004; 41(4):339-90.
  • (8) Musser, G.G. & Carleton, M.D. (2006). Superfamily Muroidea. In: Wilson, D.E., Reeder, D.M. (Eds). Mammal species of the world: a taxonomic and geographic reference, 3rd edition. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore
  • (9) Verheyen, W., Hulselmans, J.L.J., Dierckx, T., Colyn, M., Leirs, H., & Verheyen, E. (2003). A craniometric and genetic approach to the systematics of the genus Dasymys Peters, 1875 and the description of three new taxa (Rodentia, Muridae, Africa). Bulletin van het Koninklijk Belgisch Instituut voor Natuurwetenschappen 73, 27-71

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to Peter Desmet, André Heughebaert and Julien Cigar of BeBIF for their assistance and support in the development of actual website. The finalisation of data input and actual development of the website was achieved through support provided by the Belgian Biodiversity platform, an initiative of the Belgian Science Policy.

Intellectual property rights

Collection specimens are the property of the respective institutions where they are deposited. All data associated with those particular specimens are therefore also property of those institutions. Most of them are already available and belong to the public domain since there were published in taxonomic revisions under headings such as 'Material examined'. When information of a particular specimen is used, reference should be made to the museum where it is housed, by indicating the institution's name or acronym.

Copyright of the images (photographs or drawings) used is indicated on the individual image. This is either the institution where the photograph was taken or the photographer that took it. In case of published drawings, the copyright remains with the publisher.

Whenever information that is provided through this website, is used by third parties, reference should be made to the website for example by the following or similar phrasing:

Terryn L., Wendelen W., Leirs H., Lenglet G., & Verheyen E. (2007). African Rodentia, http://projects.biodiversity.be/africanrodentia, Access date : 01/12/2007

Note that derived data such as craniometric measurements and sequences can only be used after written consent.

Disclaimer

Although care was taken that the data incorporated in the database are correct, the proponents take no responsibility whatsoever with regard to the use of the data here by third parties. Persons retrieving information from this website for their own research or for applied aspects such as pest control programmes, do so at their own risk.