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Mediterranean mesocarnivores in spatially structured managed landscapes: community organisation in time and space
- Curveira-Santos, Gonçalo, Marques, Tiago A., Björklund, Mats, Santos-Reis, Margarida
- Agriculture, ecosystems & environment 2017 v.237 pp. 280-289
- Felis, Herpestes, Meles meles, Quercus suber, Vulpes vulpes, badgers, cameras, carnivores, feral animals, habitat preferences, habitats, interspecific variation, landscapes, shrubs, space and time, understory, Iberian Peninsula, Portugal
- In the multi-functional and biodiverse cork oak landscapes of Iberia (Montado), agro-silvo-pastoral practices promote landscape heterogeneity and create intricate habitat and resource availability patterns. We used camera-traps to investigate the temporal and spatial organisation of a mesocarnivore community in a Montado landscape in central Portugal. The target carnivore assemblage was largely dominated by three generalist species – the red fox Vulpes vulpes, the European badger Meles meles and the Egyptian mongoose Herpestes ichneumon – while remaining community members – the common genet Genetta genetta and the feral cat Felis silvestris spp. – exhibited restricted distributions. Interspecific differences in activity rhythms and habitat use were particularly marked among widespread species. Low temporal overlap was reported between the diurnal mongoose and predominantly nocturnal red fox and badger. For the latter two species, contrasting differences in habitat use were associated with anthropogenic-induced environmental heterogeneity. Whereas the red fox used more intensively Montado areas preserving dense shrubby understory and avoided semi-disturbed mosaics of sparse shrubs, the badgers displayed the opposite pattern. Our findings add to previous evidence suggesting that the spatial structure created in highly managed landscapes, particularly the diversity of resulting understory structures, promotes the abundance and spread of generalist mesocarnivore species. These may benefit from the surplus of resource amount (e.g. prey) and the creation of different human-made habitats conditions that provide particular combinations of ecological resources favourable to each species requirements. We concur the common view that maintaining understory heterogeneity in Montado landscapes, menaced by current intensification and extensification trends, is important where carnivore persistence is a relevant conservation goal, but alert for potential effects on carnivore assemblages structuring and impacts for specialist species less tolerant to disturbance.