Skip to main content
Log in

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

  • Original Paper
  • Published:
Mammal Research Aims and scope Submit manuscript


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.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2

Similar content being viewed by others


  • Albeke SE, Nibbelink NP, Mu L, Ellsworth DJ (2010) Measuring boundary convexity at multiple spatial scales using a linear “moving window” analysis: an application to coastal river otter habitat selection. Landscape Ecol 25:1575–1587

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ben-David M, Blundell GM, Kern JW, Maier JAK, Brown ED, Jewett SC (2005) Communication in river otters: creation of variable resource sheds for terrestrial communities. Ecology 86:1331–1345

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Blundell GM, Kern JW, Bowyer RT, Duffy LK (1999) Capturing river otters: a comparison of Hancock and leg-hold traps. Wildlife Soc B 27:184–192

    Google Scholar 

  • Bowyer RT, Testa JW, Faro JB (1995) Habitat selection and home ranges of river otters in a marine environment: effects of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. J Mammal 76(1):1–11

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Boyce MS, Vernier PR, Nielsen SE, Schmiegelow FKA (2002) Evaluating resource selection functions. Ecol Model 157:281–300

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Burnham KP, Anderson DR (2004) Multimodel inference: understanding AIC and BIC in model selection. Sociol Methods Res 33:261–304

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Conroy JWH, French DD (1987) The use of spraints to monitor populations of otters (Lutra lutra L.). Sym Zool S, London 58:247–262

    Google Scholar 

  • Crait JR, Ben-David M (2006) River otters in Yellowstone Lake depend on a declining cutthroat trout population. J Mammal 87:485–494

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Crowley S, Johnson C, Hodder DP (2012a) Spatial and behavioural scales of habitat selection and activity by river otters at latrine sites. J Mammal 93(1):170–182

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Crowley SM, Johnson C, Hodder DP (2012b) The role of demographic variables on the presence of snow tracks by river otters (Lontra canadensis). Wildlife Biol 18:105–112

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Crowley S, Johnson C, Hodder DP (2013) Spatio-temporal variation in river otter diet and latrine site activity on Tezzeron and Pinchi Lakes, British Columbia. Ecoscience 30(1):1–12

    Google Scholar 

  • Dibble ED, Killgore KJ, Harrel SL (1996) Assessment of fish-plant inter-actions. Am Fish Soc Symp:357–372

  • Dubuc LJ, Krohn WB, Owen RB Jr (1990) Predicting occurrence of river otters by habitat on Mount Desert island, Maine. J Wildlife Manage 54:594–599

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gallant D, Vasseur L, Berube CH (2007) Unveiling the limitations of scat surveys to monitor social species: a case study on river otters. J Wildlife Manage 71:258–265

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gard R (1961) Effects of the beaver on trout in Sagehen Creek, California. J Wildlife Manage 25:221–242

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gorman TA, Erb JD, McMillan BR, Martin DJ (2006) Space and sociality of river otters (Lontra Canadensis) in Minnesota. J Mammal 87:740–747

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Green ML, Monick K, Manjerovic MB, Novakofski J, Mateus-Pinilla N (2015) Communication stations: cameras reveal river otter (Lontra Canadensis) behavior and activity patterns at latrines. J Ethol 33:225–234

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Helon DA (2006) Summer home range, habitat use, movements and activity patterns of river otters (Lontra canadensis) in the Killbuck Watershed, Northeatern Ohio. Unpublished MSc Thesis, West Virginia University. Morgantown, West Virginia

  • Helon DA, Dwyer CP, Witt MD, Edwards JW, Anderson JT (2013) Summer movements and activity patterns of river otters in northeastern Ohio, USA. Proceedings of the International Academy of Ecology and Environmental Sciences 3:181–190

    Google Scholar 

  • Hernandez-Divers SM, Kollias GV, Abou-Madi N, Hartup BK (2001) Surgical technique for intra-abdominal radiotransmitter placement in north American river otters (Lontra Canadensis). J Zoo Wildlife Med 32:202–205

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Hodder DP, Rea RV (2006) Winter habitat use by river otters (Lontra Canadensis) in the John Prince Research Forest, Fort St. James, British Columbia. Wildlife Afield 3:111–116

    Google Scholar 

  • Johnson CJ, Nielsen SE, Merrill EH, McDonald TL, Boyce MS (2006) Resource selection functions based on use-availability data: theoretical motivation and evaluation methods. J Wildlife Manage 70:347–357

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Johnson CJ, Hodder DP, Crowley S (2013) Assessing noninvasive hair and fecal sampling for monitoring the distribution and abundance of river otter. Ecol Res 28:881–892

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kruuk H, Conroy JWH, Glimmerveen U, Ouwerkerk EJ (1986) The use of spraints to survey populations of otters Lutra lutra. Biol Conserv 35:187–194

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • MacDonald SM, Mason CF (1987) Seasonal marking in an otter population. Acta Theriol 32:449–462

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mason CF, MacDonald SM (1987) The use of spraints for surveying otter Lutra lutra populations; an evaluation. Biol Conserv 41:167–177

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • McDowell DM, Naiman RJ (1986) Structure and function of a benthic invertebrate stream community as influenced by beaver (Castor canadensis). Oecologica 68:481–489

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • McPhail JD (2007) The freshwater fishes of British Columbia. University of Alberta Press, Edmonton, Alberta

    Google Scholar 

  • Melquist WE, Hornocker MG (1983) Ecology of river otters in west Central Idaho. Wildlife Monogr 83:1–60

    Google Scholar 

  • Melquist WE, Polechla PJ Jr, Toweill D (2003) River otter. In: Felhamer GA, Thompson BC, Chapman JA (eds) Wild mammals of North America: management, and conservation. John Hopkins University Press. Baltimore, Maryland, pp. 708–734

    Google Scholar 

  • Menard S (2001) Applied logistic regression analysis. Sage University Paper Series on Quantitative Applications in the Social Sciences, 07–106. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage

  • Newman DG, Griffin CR (1994) Wetland use of river otters in Massachusetts. J Wildlife Manage 58:18–23

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pearce J, Ferrier S (2000) Evaluating the predictive performance of habitat models developed using logistic regression. Ecol Model 133:225–245

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Reid DG, Bayer MB, Code TE, McLean B (1987) A possible method for estimating river otter, Lutra canadensis, populations using snow tracks. Can Field Nat 101:576–580

    Google Scholar 

  • Reid DG, Code TE, Reid ACH, Herrero SM (1994) Spacing, movements, and habitat selection of the river otter in boreal Alberta. Can J Zoolog 72:1314–1324

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Scheffer VB (1953) Otters diving to a depth of sixty feet. J Mammal 34:255

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Serfass TL, Brooks RP, Swimley TJ, Rymon LM, Hayden AH (1996) Considerations for capturing, handling, and translocating river otters. Wildlife Soc B 24:25–31

    Google Scholar 

  • Swimley TJ, Serfass TL, Brooks RP, Tzilkowski WM (1998) Predicting river otter latrine sites in Pennsylvania. Wildlife Soc B 26:836–845

    Google Scholar 

Download references


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.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Shannon M. Crowley.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare they have no conflict of interest.

Statement on the welfare of animals

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.

Additional information

Communicated by: Andrzej Zalewski

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

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).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: