Effects of agro-forestry activities, cattle-raising practices and food-related factors in badger sett location and use in Portugal
Mediterranean landscapes in Europe are characterized by a mixed matrix of agriculture, agro-forestry or cattle-farming areas, which have influenced native communities for centuries. Recently, new changes were imposed on these agro-forestry landscapes due to novel management options that provide new challenges for wildlife. From a conservation perspective, there is an urgent need to assess what are the impacts and ecological responses of local wildlife populations to those changes. In the present study, we assessed the influence of human-caused disturbances (e.g. agroforestry practices, cattle-breeding activities and game management), together with food/water and landscape-related factors, on sett site selection by European badgers. We also tested the role of these factors, together with climatic variability, on sett use. We detected that areas further away from water sources, but close to game species feeding structures, have a higher probability of hosting a European badger sett. Moreover, sett use was promoted by low disturbance: setts with lower cattle presence and without understory removal activities were more often in use. Thus, our study shows that, in our study area, agro-forestry and cattle breeding activities constrain badger sett use, while food and water availability influence their distribution. Although badgers have been adapting to anthropogenic activities for centuries, they respond differently depending on the type and intensity of management. Thus, to ensure biodiversity persistence and sustainable human exploitation of the landscape, we need to identify trade-offs between wildlife ecological adaptations and anthropogenic agriculture, forestry and cattle production.
KeywordsMeles meles Multi-use forests Sett selection Forest management Southwestern Europe
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