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The impact of American mink Mustela vison and European mink Mustela lutreola on water voles Arvicola terrestris in Belarus

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In the U.K. the impact of introduced American mink Mustela vison, on water voles Arvicola terrestris, may be exacerbated by habitat loss and fragmentation. Pristine wetlands in Belarus, which American mink invaded in the early 1990s, provide a three-pronged opportunity to test this hypothesis. First, we examine the evidence that, even in the unmanaged wetlands of our Belarussian study site, American mink have reduced water vole populations. Second, we ask whether habitat size, type and isolation mitigate the impact of American mink predation. Thirdly, we explore whether water voles are at greater risk of predation from American than European mink because of their patterns of habitat use. Following the invasion of American mink, water voles were most abundant in small, still-water sites, far from river banks, while American mink were most active in large, running-water sites. Small mammal remains were found in a higher percentage of American than European mink scats, and of these, more were water vole in American mink scats. The occurrence of water voles in scats of both mink species declined after the American mink invaded and established. Our results provide at least circumstantial evidence that American mink limit water vole populations even in unmanaged wetland eco-systems, and that they have a greater impact than their European congener at least partly because they make greater use of isolated marshes. Although by no means providing complete protection, the configuration and dispersion of available habitat mitigated the impact of American mink on water voles. This raises the possibility that habitat restoration, especially through the establishment of isolated enclaves, could help reduce the effect of American mink in the U.K. These observations are of broader interest in the context of assessing the effect of multiple pressures on vulnerable species.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2002

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