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Den site selection by eastern spotted skunks (Spilogale putorius) in the Blue Ridge Mountains, North Carolina

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Abstract

Eastern spotted skunks (Spilogale putorius) are a small carnivore of conservation concern across much of their range due to population declines since at least the 1940s. They are susceptible to predation from avian and terrestrial predators and utilize dens as protective refugia and to rear young. To better understand habitat requirements for this species, we radio-tracked 30 skunks to their diurnal den sites between the months of January and August 2018–2020 in western North Carolina. We measured den and habitat characteristics and used discrete choice modeling to assess den site selection by comparing used den sites with available den sites. Skunks changed den sites frequently and used a variety of structures for dens, ranging from ground burrows and rocky outcrops to tree cavities. Our top predictive model for male den site selection supported a positive association with low basal area, high canopy closure, closer distances to drainage channels, low forb and grass groundcover, larger den entrance sizes, and steeper slopes. Our top model for female den site selection supported a positive association with low basal area and rocky outcrops. Our results suggest that male and female eastern spotted skunks in the central part of their range may key in on different habitat characteristics when selecting den sites, and that predation risk, foraging availability, or ease of travel may be driving mechanisms behind this selection that require further investigation. However, cross-validation of our top models was poor, suggesting that additional research is needed to refine our understanding of factors that may be important to selection. Collectively, our findings in the central part of the eastern spotted skunk’s range echo previous studies highlighting the importance of managing forests for vegetative cover and canopy closure to enhance availability of potential den sites for the species.

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Data availability

The data that support this study are available upon reasonable request to the corresponding author.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Kristin Botzet, Alan Cameron, Tiffany Cogan, Songbird Hawthorne, AnaRose Hebein, Logan Parr, Sarah Pesi, Victoria Locke, and especially Gregory Detweiler for their hard work in the field on this project. We also thank Casey Dukes for logistical support on this project, Allison Hody for initial project design, and Courtney Marneweck for assistance with data analysis. We are grateful to Ryan Sparks and the Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina, Wesley Sketo, Michael Sweat and the North Carolina Forest Service at DuPont State Recreational Forest, and Amanda Lasley and South Mountains State Park for logistical support and property access during this study. This research forms part of the MSc thesis of the first author (Siegfried 2021).

Funding

This study was funded by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission through a Pittman-Robertson Federal Aid to Wildlife Restoration grant (NC-W-F17AF01155) and was a joint research project between the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission and Clemson University (WM-0322).

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Correspondence to Stephen N. Harris.

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Ethics approval

Trapping, processing, collaring, and radio-tracking techniques used in this study were approved by, and conducted in accordance with, Clemson University Animal Care and Use Committee protocol (Permit: AR 2017–065). We followed relevant guidelines for scientific research ethics.

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The authors have no competing interests to declare.

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Communicated by: Andrzej Zalewski

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Siegfried, A.C., Harris, S.N., Olfenbuttel, C. et al. Den site selection by eastern spotted skunks (Spilogale putorius) in the Blue Ridge Mountains, North Carolina. Mamm Res 68, 533–545 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13364-023-00703-4

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s13364-023-00703-4

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