Are badgers ‘Under The Weather’? Direct and indirect impacts of climate variation on European badger (Meles meles) population dynamics

Authors

  • DAVID W. MACDONALD,

    1. Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, The Recanati-Kaplan Centre, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, Tubney House, Abingdon Road, Tubney, Abingdon, Oxfordshire OX13 5QL, UK
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  • CHRISTOPHER NEWMAN,

    1. Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, The Recanati-Kaplan Centre, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, Tubney House, Abingdon Road, Tubney, Abingdon, Oxfordshire OX13 5QL, UK
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  • CHRISTINA D. BUESCHING,

    1. Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, The Recanati-Kaplan Centre, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, Tubney House, Abingdon Road, Tubney, Abingdon, Oxfordshire OX13 5QL, UK
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  • PIERRE NOUVELLET

    1. Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, The Recanati-Kaplan Centre, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, Tubney House, Abingdon Road, Tubney, Abingdon, Oxfordshire OX13 5QL, UK
    2. Centre for Study of Evolution, School of Biological Sciences, University of Sussex, Brighton BN1 9QG, UK
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D. W. Macdonald, tel. +44 1865 393100, fax +44 1865 393101, e-mail: david.macdonald@zoo.ox.ac.uk

Abstract

Weather conditions, and how they in turn define and characterize regional climatic conditions, are a primary limit on global species diversity and distribution, and increasing variability in global and regional climates have significant implications for species and habitat conservation. A Capture–Mark–Recapture study revealed that badger (Meles meles) life history parameters interact in complicated ways with annual variability in the seasonality of temperature and rainfall, both in absolute and in phenological terms. A strong predictive relationship was observed between survival and both temperature and late-summer rainfall. This link at the population dynamics level was related to individual body-weight increases observed between summer and autumn. In addition, fecundity was correlated with spring rainfall and temperature. We investigated and confirmed that relationships were consistent with observed variation in the intensity of a parasitic infection. Finally, fecundity during any given year correlated with conditions in the preceding autumn. Badger survival also correlated with late winter weather conditions. This period is critical for badgers insofar as it coincides with their peak involvement in road traffic accidents (RTAs). RTA rate during this period was linked strongly to temperature, underlining the intricate ways in which a changing climate might interact with anthropogenic agents to influence species' population processes. Equinoctial conditions produced significant population driver effects. That is, while summers will always be relatively warm compared with winters, spring and autumn weather can be more variable and functionally delimit the ‘productive’ vs. nonproductive period of the year in terms of badger behavioural and physiological cycles. This study highlights how appropriately informed conservation strategies, mindful of trends in climatic conditions, will become ever-more essential to ensure the survival of many species globally.

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