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A comparison of the feeding biology of Mink Mustela vison and otter Lutra lutra

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Abstract

The feeding habits and prey selectivity of Mink Mustela vison and otters Lutra lutra were compared in two localities in Devon: a eutrophic lake and a moorland river, in which both species occurred and had access to the same prey populations. The effects of prey availability on the predators' diets were assessed by comparing prey consumed, as revealed by scat analysis, with estimates of prey abundance and size range. Otters specialized in fish at all times of year but showed seasonal variation in species taken. Selection for slow-moving fish and seasonal changes in behaviour of some fish species were the probable causes of this variation. Otters diversified more into non-fish food in summer, when fish availability was reduced. The main alternative prey in the lacustrine habitat was waterfowl, but in the riverine habitat, rabbits. Mink were more generalized carnivores, taking a variety of fish, waterside and terrestrial prey in all seasons. These three prey categories were taken to an almost equal extent in the lake but terrestrial prey dominated in the riverine habitat. Fish were taken most frequently in winter and birds and mammals in summer. Neither predator showed selection in respect of prey size. In each area, about one third of the otter and Mink diets was common to both species. Fish was the principal group of the shared component, and dietary overlap in respect of them was greatest in autumn and winter. In view of the dietary preferences of each predator, the existence of alternative prey items and limited degree of dietary overlap, it is considered unlikely that the two species competed for food to any extent. Other factors must therefore be responsible for the spread of feral Mink and the decline in otter populations in many parts of Britain.

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