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Abstract

A typical badger (Meles meles) territory contains a primary burrow or 'main sett' plus several secondary burrows or 'outlier setts'. The main aim of our study was to test the hypothesis that outlier setts are used as emergency refuges, by subjecting foraging radio-collared badgers to three levels of experimental disturbance (low, moderate and high). In addition, we recorded the occurrence of potential alarm signals. With low-level disturbance, badgers usually returned to the main sett even when this was further away than the nearest outlier sett; with high-level disturbance they always took refuge in the nearest outlier; and with moderate-level disturbance they showed no clear preference. We conclude that outlier setts do act as emergency refuges, but only when an animal is badly frightened. Possible alarm signals (pilo-erection, head-flagging, snorting and growling) occurred mainly during moderate or high-level disturbance but even then they were relatively infrequent. Signals were no more likely to be emitted when conspecifics were near by than when the signaller was alone, and when conspecifics were present they rarely reacted either to the flight of the disturbed animal or to any signals that it emitted. We conclude that such alarm signals as do occur constitute threats directed towards the predator rather than warnings for the benefit of conspecifics.