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Feeding habits of the otter and the American mink in Białowieża Primeval Forest (Poland) compared to other Eurasian populations

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Diets of the otter Lutra lutra and the American mink Mustela vison were studied by scat analysis on five woodland rivers and streams in eastern Poland. Fish constituted 51% of food biomass consumed by otters in spring-summer and 40% in autumn-winter, with common fish (perch Perca fluviatilis, pike Esox lucius, and roach Rutilus rutilus) being captured most frequently by the otters. Amphibians (mainly Rana temporaria, which also dominated in the living community) made up 34% of otters’ food biomass in spring-summer and 58% in autumn-winter. American mink relied on three prey groups: fish (40% in spring-summer, and 10% in autumn-winter), frogs (32% and 51%, respectively), and small mammals (21% and 36%). Out of available Micromammalia, mink strongly selected the root vole Microtus oeconomus. The cold season diet of both otter and mink depended on river size. On small rivers with forested valleys, otters and mink fed nearly exclusively on amphibians (72–90% of food biomass). With size of a river increasing and riverside habitat becoming more open (sedge and reed marshes instead of forests), otters shifted to catching predominantly fish (up to 76% in diet) and mink to preying on small mammals (up to 65% in diet).

Review of literature on otter and mink in Eurasia showed that their diets did not change with latitude (as indicators of climate severity and duration of water freezing) but they depended on habitats. In otter diet, the mean share of fish declined from 94% (SE 1.7) on sea shores, to 71% (SE 2.9) on lakes and fish ponds, to 64% (SE 2.8) on rivers and streams. The roles of amphibians and crustaceans increased in the same gradient (from 0 to 15%, and from 3 to 7%, respectively). On inland waters, the abundance of crayfish was the essential factor differentiating otters’ diet composition. In Eurasia, the staple food types of American mink on rivers and streams were fish (on average, 27% in diet, SE 3.9), mammals (30%, SE 5.0), and amphibians (17%, SE 4.8), whereas on lakes and ponds mink fed predominantly on birds (on average, 33% in diet, SE 10.1) and fish (28%, SE 9.5). In the Palaearctic region, over a wide gradient of habitats, otters appeared strongly specialised on prey taken from water, whereas American mink was a typical generalist capable of utilising several prey groups originating from both water and land.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: April 1, 2001

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