Space and habitat selection by female European wild cats (Felis silvestris silvestris)

Pedro Sarmento, Joana Cruz, P Tarroso, Carlos Fonseca

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Studies on the use of space and habitat selection of threatened species are useful for identifying factors that influence fitness of individuals and population viability. However, there is a considerable lack of published information regarding these factors for the European wildcat ( Felis silvestris ). Serra da Malcata Nature Reserve (SMNR), a mountainous area in the eastern centre of Portugal, hosts a stable wildcat population which constitutes a priority in terms of conservation. We studied space use and habitat selection of female wildcats in SMNR with the following objectives: 1) to describe seasonal space use and habitat selection and 2) to obtain information on priority habitats for wildcats in order to develop a proper conservation strategy. We used radio-telemetry as the basic tool for our study and we analysed habitat selection using an Euclidean distance-based approach to investigate seasonal and annual habitat selection by wildcats. We detected that during spring females exhibit smaller home ranges and core areas. Females exhibited habitat selection for establishing home ranges from the available habitats within the study area. In fact, females selected Quercus pyrenaica forests and Quercus rotundifolia and Arbutus unedo forests positively and avoided Erica spp. and Cistus ladanifer scrubland and other habitats. Quercus pyrenaica forests and Quercus rotundifolia and Arbutus unedo forests are important habitats for female wildcats because they provide shelter and food resources, such as small mammals. They also contain elevated tree cavities which can be use as dens. In contrast, Erica spp. and Cistus ladanifer scrubland is an extremely dense habitat with low associated biodiversity and so wildcats avoid it. We believe that this habitat, as well as pine stands, do not provide food and cover resources for wildcats. Home ranges with higher percentage of these habitat types tend to be larger, since females are required to use larger areas to meet their resource requirements. Our results emphasize the importance of the remaining autochthonous forests in wildcat conservation. Therefore, we recommend that current habitat policy for restoration and conservation should be continued and expanded in order to substantially increase the amount of natural forested land in Serra da Malcata.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)79-89
Number of pages11
JournalWildlife Biology in Practice
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2006

Bibliographical note

© 2006 Sarmento, Cruz, Tarroso, Fonseca.

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