Habitat correlates of group size, bodyweight and reproductive performance in a high-density Eurasian badger (Meles meles) population


Stephen P. Carter. Current address: CSL Research Unit, Woodchester Park, Nympsfield, Stonehouse, Gloucestershire GL10 3UJ, UK. Fax: 01453 860132
Email: s.carter@csl.gov.uk


The relationship between habitat composition and the condition, productivity and number of residents of 24 badger Meles meles social groups in a high-density population at Woodchester Park, south-west England is described for 2 years. The habitat composition of social group territories varied considerably, although agricultural grassland (permanent pasture and ley grass) and cover of some description (i.e. woodland or scrub) predominated. Group size was positively related to the amount of arable and negatively related to the amount of deciduous woodland in the territory. The number of females and the number of cubs in a group were positively related to the amount of ley (rotational) grassland in the territory, while the number of males was not related to the availability of any land-use category. The bodyweight of badgers in both summer and autumn was positively related to the amount of permanent pasture and ley grassland. However, weight gain was significantly related to the availability of permanent pasture only. Females that were heavier in the autumn were significantly more likely to lactate in the following year and cub bodyweight in summer and autumn was proportionately higher than that of adults and yearlings per unit area increase in agricultural grassland. There were significant age- and sex-related differences in relationships between the habitat composition of territories and the number and condition of resident badgers. Nevertheless, the availability of agricultural grassland was the most important habitat requirement related to bodyweight in adults and cubs of both sexes.