Factors affecting the abundance of introduced hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) to the Hebridean island of South Uist in the absence of natural predators and implications for nesting birds


Digger B. Jackson, RSPB Scotland, Dunedin House, 25 Ravelston Terrace, Edinburgh EH4 3TP, UK.
Email: digger_dbj@hotmail.com


Introduced hedgehogs Erinaceus europaeus are a known threat to ground-nesting birds on many islands. Spring hedgehog density and sex ratio were measured over a 5-year period at four plots on the 315 km2 Hebridean island of South Uist. The mean instantaneous density on the sandy-soiled machair plots (31.8 hedgehogs km−2, se 2.95) was over twice that on the peaty-soiled blackland plots (15.4 hedgehogs km−2, se 3.46), a difference reflecting the amount of preferred foraging habitat (mainly pasture). Plot population densities fluctuated approximately in unison. Year-to-year density changes were strongly correlated with temperature in the preceding winter and previous year's spring/summer, indicating that warmer conditions promote both survival and breeding success. The mean spring sex ratio of sub-adults (animals born in the previous calendar year) was not significantly different from 1M:1F. However, the 1.8M:1F ratio observed for adults was significantly male biased, probably a result of female mortality associated with rearing young. The study estimates that in an average year the South Uist hedgehog population numbers c. 2750 (95% confidence limit±800) adults and sub-adults and these produce around 3000 young. Compared with the native range, hedgehog densities on South Uist are shown to be unusually high, probably because their natural predators are absent. High hedgehog densities have led directly to high rates of egg predation of ground-nesting shorebirds and subsequent declines in bird populations. The results suggest that over the past 20 years egg losses have become more severe and control of hedgehogs more difficult because climate warming has resulted in generally more favourable conditions for hedgehogs on the islands.