Effects of habitat quality upon reintroduction success in water voles: Evidence from a replicated experiment
Moorhouse TP., Gelling M., Macdonald DW.
Reintroductions are an important tool in conservation biology but frequently fail. Factors influencing reintroduction 'success' are rarely tested experimentally. We examined the relationship between habitat quality and reintroduction success in an experimental reintroduction of populations of water voles (Arvicola terrestris) in the UK. We released cohorts of 44 water voles into 12 replicate 800 m stretches of river, each supporting a different habitat abundance. Water voles initially established at nine sites, failing to establish at three sites due to predation from American mink (two sites) and atypically severe flooding post-release (one site). For sites where voles established, at those with higher vegetation abundance more of the release cohort survived (initial survival rates range 0.43-0.61), and post-establishment survival rates (range 0.45-0.80) and population densities (range 2.1-5.4 voles per 100 m of habitat) were higher. A further two populations were lost to American mink predation post-establishment. Reintroductions are commonly designated as either a 'success' or a 'failure'. The principal cause of a failed release in our study was insufficient mink control. However, whilst seven of our 12 reintroductions were 'successful', our results indicated substantial variation in the population densities and survival rates that the replicate habitats could support. This highlights the need to ensure that any habitat selected for a reintroduction is the best obtainable. © 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.