The influence of fish abundance on the otter (Lutra lutra) populations in Iberian Mediterranean habitats

Authors

  • Jordi Ruiz-Olmo,

    Corresponding author
    1. Servei de Protecció i Gestió de la Fauna, Direcció General del Patrimoni Natural i del Medi Físic, Dr. Roux 80, 08017-Barcelona, Spain
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  • José M. López-Martín,

    1. Servei de Protecció i Gestió de la Fauna, Direcció General del Patrimoni Natural i del Medi Físic, Dr. Roux 80, 08017-Barcelona, Spain
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  • Santiago Palazón

    1. Servei de Protecció i Gestió de la Fauna, Direcció General del Patrimoni Natural i del Medi Físic, Dr. Roux 80, 08017-Barcelona, Spain
    2. Departament de Biologia Animal (Vertebrats), Facultat de Biologia, Avda. Diagonal, 645, 08028-Barcelona, Spain
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All correspondence to: J. Ruiz-Olmo. E-mail: ajruiol@correu.gencat.es

Abstract

Recent studies show that the availability of prey influences the ecology of otters by regulating breeding, carrying capacity and mortality. Mediterranean habitats experience extreme seasonal variation in water flow – a stress period can occur in summer when water flows and levels are low with long periods of drought, while torrential floods usually occur in autumn and spring. Reservoirs can affect this situation by further influencing water flow regimes and acting as a barrier. Our data show the close relationship between the amount of food (fish) available to otters and their use of a stretch of water and the otter density there. The adjustment of the number of individuals (and carrying capacity) in an area can be seen from their mortality, a decrease in their reproductive success, or migration. Our results are consistent with the hypothesis that otters are food-limited. Torrential rains, summer droughts and dams for water management have repercussions for otter populations in as much as they affect their prey-species. Barbels Barbus spp. and, secondarily, nases Chondrostoma spp. are shown to be important to otter ecology and breeding in Mediterranean Iberian rivers. The conservation and management of the otter in these habitats must not ignore the management of food sources. In order not to affect otter populations, the effect of the reservoirs and their dams also must be considered. The release and cessation of floodwater from reservoirs must be progressive and mimic more closely the flow regime of natural rivers.

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