Winter selection of habitats within intertidal foraging areas by mink (Mustela vison)



Patterns of habitat selection by American mink Mustela vison within foraging areas located on the shore, were studied in a coastal environment of Scotland from November to March in 1983/84, 1984/85 and 1994/95. The abundance of prey in the intertidal zone was modelled in relation to abiotic environmental characteristics. Four factors were found to be important predictors of prey abundance: the position within the tidal zone, the abundance and size of rockpools, the nature of the substratum and the presence of fresh water streams. The model was used to predict prey abundance in different areas of the shore. We then investigated whether mink were choosing areas with higher prey abundance at different tidal levels and within, as opposed to between, core areas (areas with a relatively high density of fixes, encompassing usually one or more dens). Only when foraging at low or mid-tide and within core areas were mink found to behave selectively. They showed no significant preference for areas rich in prey when foraging at high tide and between core areas. Mink were also found to avoid areas with fresh water streams and to prefer foraging in the mid-tide zone. The findings are discussed in relation to prey abundance and competition with the otter Lutra lutra.