European Journal of Wildlife Research

, Volume 57, Issue 4, pp 827–842 | Cite as

Factors affecting otter (Lutra lutra) abundance and breeding success in freshwater habitats of the northeastern Iberian Peninsula

  • Jordi Ruiz-OlmoEmail author
  • Antoni Batet
  • Francesc Mañas
  • Ramon Martínez-Vidal
Original Paper


Otters are elusive semi-aquatic mammals, occurring in low densities and difficult to count. A study was conducted in 15 stretches (10–12 km) of four tributaries of the Ebro River, with the aims to understand spatial and temporal changes in otter abundance and breeding success and the causes of such variations. Between 1990 and 2009, both otter parameters were assessed by means of visual spring–early summer censuses, carried out by sets of observers located every 500 m. A total of 134 censuses were carried out, involving 4,540 twilight watches (7,896.5 h) and 520 otter sightings were recorded. Also, 39 different habitat characteristics (including prey species) were established for each stretch. Otter abundance was assessed by means of three indexes related to the census effort and the length and surface units (in terms of otter habitat). Excluding the upper stretches, we found on average 0.07–0.26 adult and subadults per kilometre (1.45–6.26/km2). Important interannual fluctuations in otter abundance and breeding success were found in some Pyrenean stretches located downstream of a large reservoir. This was linked to the effect of autumn floods (in part due to the opening of dams) on the fish stocks (mainly Barbels). Similar habitat conditions resulted in similar abundances between stretches, and different habitat conditions generated different abundances in adjacent stretches of the same river. No significant differences were found for litter size between small cubs (1.60 ± 0.70 cubs per litter) and large cubs (1.39 ± 0.50) as a whole, but differences between stretches were found. On average we found between 0.009 and 0.130 large cubs per year per kilometre. Otters bred more successfully in stretches with higher otter densities. Otter abundance and breeding success correlated negatively with altitude as a consequence of the interaction of several habitat characteristics with altitude. The stepwise linear regression linked the number of adult otters per kilometre with the ecosystem production (chlorophyll a concentration), while the number of large cubs per kilometre per year was linked with the food (fish + crayfish) abundance. The findings bring about a consistent and congruent scenario of otter abundance and breeding success explained by the different steps along the food chain.


Otter Lutra lutra Abundance Breeding Density 



We are grateful to all the people participating in the visual censuses, especially Dr. Santiago Palazón, Dr. Josep Maria López-Martín, Dr. Antoni Margalida, Diego García-Ferrer, Diego Martínez, Xavier Parellada, Francesca Casadesús, Vicky Asensio, Dr. Óscar Arribas, Dr. Vittorio Pedrochi and the members of the Cos d’Agents Rurals.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jordi Ruiz-Olmo
    • 1
    Email author
  • Antoni Batet
    • 1
  • Francesc Mañas
    • 1
  • Ramon Martínez-Vidal
    • 2
  1. 1.Direcció general del Medi Natural (DMAH)BarcelonaSpain
  2. 2.Parc Natural del Cadí-MoixeròBagàSpain

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