Decline of invasive alien mink (Mustela vison) is concurrent with recovery of native otters (Lutra lutra)

Authors


*Corresponding author. Robbie A. McDonald, Quercus, School of Biological Sciences, Queen's University Belfast, Belfast BT9 7BL, UK. Tel.: +44-28-9097-2281; Fax: +44-28-9097-5877; E-mail: r.a.mcdonald@qub.ac.uk

ABSTRACT

Invasive species often cause the decline of native prey or competitors. We highlight a contrasting example of the large-scale recovery of a native species and the concurrent decline and likely displacement of an established invasive competitor. Invasive American mink Mustela vison became widespread in the British Isles at the same time as native Eurasian otters Lutra lutra were declining as a result of water pollution. In common with other invasive predators, mink cause conservation problems for a range of native prey species, most notably water voles Arvicola terrestris. Recent trends in the distribution of native otters and invasive mink in north-east England were examined using a novel regression modelling approach to analyse presence/absence data from field surveys, corroborated by contemporary predator culling records. Between 1991 and 2002, the percentage of sites where mink signs were found decreased from 80% to 20%, while otter signs increased from 18% to 80%. Annual indices of mink captures on shooting estates increased between 1980 and 1996, but were followed by a decline thereafter. Indices of the incidence of native otters were significantly related to those indicating the decline or displacement of invasive mink. This large-scale field study is supportive of localized experimental evidence for the return of dominant, native otters being concurrent with the decline of the invasive alien mink. The recovery of a dominant native species may represent a reversal of the mesopredator release that allowed invasive mink to establish and may eventually serve to mitigate their impact on native prey species.

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