Estimating group size and population density of Eurasian badgers Meles meles by quantifying latrine use
Tuyttens FAM., Long B., Fawcett T., Skinner A., Brown JA., Cheeseman CL., Roddam AW., Macdonald DW.
1. Conservation issues and a potential role in disease transmission generate the continued need to census Eurasian badgers Meles meles, but direct counts and sett counts present difficulties. The feasibility of estimating social group size and population density of badgers by quantifying their use of latrines was evaluated. 2. The number of latrines, or preferably the number of separate dung pits, which were known from bait-marking to be used by members of a social group, was positively correlated with adult group size estimated from mark-recapture studies at Woodchester Park and North Nibley (south-west England). In the latter study area both latrine-use measures were also significantly associated with total group size (i.e. including cubs and adults). 3. In spring 1997 and 1998, we quantified latrine use along strip transects, following linear features across four and five areas, respectively, in England, where badger density in summer was known from mark-recapture/resight studies. 4. Seven latrine-use measures were evaluated with regard to their potential to predict badger density. Each measure separately explained between 62% and 91% of the variation in population density in a given year. The simplest measures (latrines km-1 and pits km-1) were most stable between years. 5. For these two simple latrine-use measures, a linear model without an intercept term explained the highest proportion of variation in population density. A stepwise procedure to produce the best model selected only one (latrines km-1) of the two measures as an explanatory variable, indicating that pits km-1 is colinear with the former variable. 6. A badger census technique based on simple measurements of latrine use has great promise but needs to be validated across a wider range of badger populations, habitats, years, seasons and weather conditions.