Aim To analyse the geographical patterns in the composition and diversity of otter's (Lutra lutra L.) diet and their relationship with climatic characteristics.
Location European freshwater habitats under Mediterranean and temperate climatic regimes.
Methods Thirty-seven otter diet studies were reviewed, twenty-one from temperate and sixteen from Mediterranean areas. All studies were based on spraint analysis and their results expressed as relative frequency of occurrence of seven main prey categories. Principal Component Analysis was performed to extract the main gradients of diet composition. Pearson's correlation and t-tests were used to assess the relationship between diet characteristics (composition, diversity and taxonomic richness) and geographical and climatic variables.
Results A clear latitudinal gradient in diet composition was observed. Otter diet was more diverse and featured more prey classes in southern localities, while the species was more piscivorous towards the north, where it predated upon a higher number of fish families. This pattern was similar when temperate and Mediterranean localities of Europe were compared. Mediterranean otters behaved as more generalist predators than temperate ones, relying less on fish, and more on aquatic invertebrates and reptiles.
Main conclusions Geographical differences in otter feeding ecology in Europe seem to be related with the two contrasted climatic conditions affecting prey populations. The otter can act as a highly specialized piscivorous predator in temperate freshwater ecosystems, which do not suffer a dry season and have a comparatively stable water regime compared to Mediterranean ones. However, the unpredictable prey availability in Mediterranean areas, affected by strong spatial and temporal water shortages, favours a diversification of the otter's diet.