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Impacts of mosquitoes and black flies on defensive behaviour and microhabitat use of the North American porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum) in southern Quebec

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Abstract:

Biting flies are known to influence the behaviour and microhabitat use of certain mammals. However, most studies were realized in open habitats. Our objective was to determine if mosquitoes (Culicidae) and black flies (Simuliidae) affect the behaviour and habitat use of a mammal typical of the boreal forest, the North American porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum (L., 1758)). The project was divided into three parts: (1) abundance of biting flies and their (2) direct effects (bites) and (3) indirect effects (repelling movements and microhabitat use) on porcupines. The abundance of insects was measured with CO2-baited traps. Ten male porcupines were followed by telemetry. Mosquitoes were more abundant on the ground than in the tree canopy and the opposite was observed for black flies. The biting flies were less abundant inside dens than outside. The quantity of bites on porcupines was correlated with the abundance of black flies. We observed frequent repelling movements that were associated with the presence of insects. Some microhabitats offered excellent protection against biting insects, but porcupines did not use these refuges to a greater extent at the peak of insect abundance. We conclude that, although biting flies had measurable impacts on the wounding rate and behaviour of porcupines, this did not translate into important shifts in habitat use.

Les insectes piqueurs influencent le comportement et le choix de micro-habitats de certains mammifères. Toutefois, la plupart des études ont été réalisées en milieu ouvert. Notre recherche vise à déterminer si les moustiques (Culicidae) et les mouches noires (Simuliidae) affectent le comportement et l'utilisation de l'habitat chez le porc-épic d'Amérique (Erethizon dorsatum (L., 1758)), un mammifère typique de la forêt boréale. Le projet comporte trois types de mesures : (1) l'abondance des insectes piqueurs et (2) les effets directs (piqûres) et (3) les effets indirects (inconfort et utilisation de micro-habitats) des insectes sur les porcs-épics. Les mesures d'abondance d'insectes ont été obtenues par des pièges à CO2. Dix porcs-épics mâles ont été suivis par télémétrie. Les moustiques sont plus nombreux au niveau du sol que dans le feuillage des arbres et l'inverse s'observe chez les mouches noires. Les insectes piqueurs sont moins abondants dans les tanières qu'à l'extérieur. Les nombres de piqûres sur les porcs-épics sont corrélés avec l'abondance de mouches noires. Les comportements d'inconfort sont fréquents et associés à la présence d'insectes. Certains micro-habitats offrent une excellente protection contre les insectes, mais les porcs-épics n'utilisent pas plus fréquemment ces refuges potentiels lors du pic d'abondance des insectes. Nous concluons que les insectes piqueurs ont des effets mesurables (comportements d'inconfort et blessures) sur les porcs-épics, mais que ces effets ne semblent pas assez importants pour affecter de façon significative l'utilisation de l'habitat par leur hôte.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: May 1, 2005

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  • Published since 1929, this monthly journal reports on primary research contributed by respected international scientists in the broad field of zoology, including behaviour, biochemistry and physiology, developmental biology, ecology, genetics, morphology and ultrastructure, parasitology and pathology, and systematics and evolution. It also invites experts to submit review articles on topics of current interest.
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