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Keywords:

  • Lutra lutra;
  • prey selection;
  • Hungary

Abstract

In this study the predation and fish prey selection of otters Lutra lutra L. living by eutrophic fish ponds on agricultural land and in a protected area of temperate climate in Hungary were investigated. The correlations between fish in the diet of the otters (by spraint analysis involved 1942 and 1280 samples for the two habitats) and the fish stock available (by harvest and sample fishing) were generally close. Prey selection was significantly related to selected species of a particular size range (P<0.01). The preference calculations were performed with Ivlev's index of preference (Ei, minimum −1, maximum +1). Regardless of species, the otters avoided (Ei=−0.51) fish heavier than 1000 g, with a preference for individuals weighing between 500 and 1000 g (Ei=0.79). No substantial or clear preference was observed in the weight range below 500 g (Ei=−0.02–0.38). The preference for fish in accordance with their characteristic sites of occurrence within the body of water was also significant (P<0.01). They avoided fish living primarily in open water (Ei=−0.64) and to a lesser degree those occurring near the pond bed (Ei=−0.22). They favoured fish inhabiting the area with a covering of aquatic plants (Ei=0.46), and showed a preference to a lesser degree for fish living in the shallow littoral regions (Ei=0.14). With the cessation of fish farming and the effect of the drastic changes which occurred in the vegetation, the otters fed substantially on the stock of alternative sources of prey such as amphibians and water insects as well as terrestrial animals, and at such times, depending on season, fish became a secondary source of prey.