Woodland fragmentation affects space use of Eurasian red squirrels
Faculty of Sciences. Biology
Acta oecologica. - Montreuil
, p. 94-103
University of Antwerp
When habitats become fragmented, variation in patch size and quality are expected to impose changes on the spacing pattern and social organization of animal populations. General theory predicts different possible responses including shrinking home ranges (fission response), increasing range overlap (fusion) and incorporation of multiple patches in the home range (expansion response) as fragmentation increases. We studied space use and social organization in a metapopulation of red squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris) in 15 woodland fragments differing in size and tree species composition. Home ranges and core areas of males were larger than females, and fragmentation had different and complex effects on the spacing pattern of both sexes. In food-supplemented patches, high densities led to increased intra-sexual overlap. In linear-shaped patches, squirrels used smaller home ranges and core areas and had lower malemale and malefemale overlap levels, independent of patch quality or size. Home range and core area size of males increased with patch size, and male core areas overlapped extensively those of other males and females. Hence males seemed to show a fission response only in some patches. In contrast, home range and core area size of females was not related with patch size, but decreased with habitat quality, supporting predictions of a fusion response and intra-sexual defense of food-based core areas. Hence, where patch size and shape strongly affected space use of male red squirrels, social organization of females was only affected in small, food-supplemented patches, suggesting that the basic spatio-social organization of adult females is very resistant to fragmentation.