Distribution of badger latrines in a high-density population: habitat selection and implications for the transmission of bovine tuberculosis to cattle

Authors


Correspondence
Neil Walker. Current address: CSL Research Unit, Woodchester Park, Nympsfield, Glos. GL10 3UJ, UK. Tel: 01453 861400; Fax: 01453 860132
Email: n.walker@csl.gov.uk

Abstract

Eurasian badgers Meles meles habitually deposit droppings and other scent marks at latrines, which may be associated with territorial defence, and communicate information related to group and individual identity and status, and food resources. Understanding patterns of latrine distribution contributes to our understanding of badger social behaviour, and may be relevant to managing the risks of transmission of bovine tuberculosis from badgers to cattle. We investigated the distribution of badger latrines relative to habitat composition in a high-density badger population occupying a 7 km2 area of diverse landscape in south-west England. Results indicated that the frequency and density of badger latrines varied according to land use, with woodland and linear landscape features (particularly hedges and stone walls) being positively selected. The number of latrines decreased significantly with distance from linear features. Grassland was negatively selected given its availability, but contained the highest number of latrines. The tendency for latrines to be associated with particular habitat types covaried spatially across the study area. We present a habitat selection probability function, based on the output of our analyses, to allow comparison of observed versus expected latrine counts per habitat type at different sites. Habitat manipulation on farmland may offer opportunities to manage exposure of cattle to badger latrines. However, our analyses indicate that other factors (perhaps demographic or environmental) may also exert a substantial local influence on latrine location.

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