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Are latrine sites an accurate predictor of seasonal habitat selection by river otters (Lontra canadensis) in freshwater systems?

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Abstract

Temporal variation in the availability of food resources is a likely driving factor influencing the distribution and habitat use of river otters (Lontra canadensis). Although latrine sites are commonly used to determine habitat selection, it is unclear if latrine sites are an accurate predictor or even a useful indicator of the seasonal habitat use and distribution of river otters. We apply resource selection functions (RSF) to both latrine and telemetry locations to investigate whether latrine sites identified along lake shorelines during the ice-free season are appropriate predictors of otter habitat selection along shorelines during the ice-free and ice-cover seasons in central British Columbia, Canada. We found that the top models describing otter latrine sites and telemetry locations during the ice-free season were similar. The top RSF models and associated coefficients for the ice-cover season differed, however, with otter presence being positively influenced by shallower water depths. For the spatial extrapolation of averaged RSF coefficients, we found that 21.4 and 69.3 % of predicted latrine habitat along lake shorelines overlapped with ice-cover and ice-free habitat generated from telemetry locations, respectively. The location and activity at latrine sites appear to be a useful method for monitoring otter distribution and habitat use during the ice-free, but not during the ice-cover season. The results of our RSF analyses as well as home range measurements of otters in our study area suggest that cold temperatures and ice cover may be a limiting factor for the distribution of otter populations at northern latitudes.

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Acknowledgments

We thank the Habitat Conservation Trust Fund, Teck Resources Ltd., the John Prince Research Forest and the University of Northern British Columbia for providing funding to support this project. We thank Sue Grainger, Beverly John and Amelia Stark for their support and shared space. Dr. Walter Wigmore, Dr. Elena Garde and Dr. Malcolm McAdie provided excellent veterinary care for captured otters. A special thanks to Sarah Champagne and Nathan Tom for their hard work, positive attitude, and sense of humor. We thank Valerie Crowley for her support and hard work on our project.

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Correspondence to Shannon M. Crowley.

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All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. All procedures performed in studies involving animals were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institution or practice at which the studies were conducted.

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Communicated by: Andrzej Zalewski

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Crowley, S.M., Johnson, C.J. & Hodder, D.P. Are latrine sites an accurate predictor of seasonal habitat selection by river otters (Lontra canadensis) in freshwater systems?. Mamm Res 62, 37–45 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13364-016-0297-6

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s13364-016-0297-6

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