, Volume 58, Issue 3, pp 233-244
Date: 17 Feb 2013

Population status, habitat associations, and distribution of the steppe polecat Mustela eversmanii in Europe

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Abstract

The steppe polecat Mustela eversmanii is a medium-sized mustelid species whose European population has significantly declined over the past century. However, due to the lack of systematic surveys, little is known about its status and distribution. In this paper, we review the current distribution, habitat associations, and population trends of steppe polecats in Europe and assess the main factors associated with these trends. Our results reveal ongoing population declines in most of the studied countries, which led to fragmentation and local population extinctions at the beginning of the twenty-first century. The species was assessed as rapidly declining in Austria, Czech Republic, Moldova, Slovakia, and Ukraine; declining in Bulgaria; and stable in Hungary. Due to insufficient data, its status was not evaluated for Romania, Poland, and Serbia. M. eversmanii naturally occurs in steppe habitats, but recently seems to have adopted open agricultural landscapes consisting of a mosaic of grasslands, small fields with hedges, and dry embankments. Its distribution often coincides with populations of ground squirrels and hamsters. However, in intensively used agricultural landscapes, smaller rodents (especially voles) could also be an important dietary component. Intensive agricultural production, habitat loss, the degradation of steppe and grassland habitats, and significant declines in the availability of its main prey are the crucial factors for the species’ current population decline. Further research is urgently needed to fill the gaps in our knowledge of its distribution, population densities, feeding ecology, habitat associations, and population genetics. This would enable first steps towards its effective conservation and management strategies.

Communicated by: Justin G. Boyles