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Patch occupancy, population density and dynamics in a fragmented red squirrel Sciurusvulgaris population

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We studied population dynamics of red squirrels in a group of small forest fragments, that cover only 6.5% of the total study area (4664 ha) and where distances to the nearest source population were up to 2.2 km. We tested effects of patch size, quality and isolation and supplementary feeding on patch occupation during 1995–99. Larger patches and patches with supplementary feeding had a higher probability of being occupied. No patch <3.5 ha was ever occupied. No effects of isolation were found, suggesting that the forest habitat in the study area is not sufficiently fragmented to influence red squirrel distribution across patches. For medium sized patches (3.7–21 ha), that were occupied some years, there was an increase in patch occupation over the years, even though overall population size tended to decrease. These patches had a high turnover, especially of males. Patches in which the squirrel population went extinct were recolonized within a year. For patches that were at least some years occupied, squirrel density depended on patch quality only. No effects of patch size, isolation and winter temperature on population density were found. These data suggest that in our study area habitat fragmentation has no effect on local squirrel density and that the random sample hypothesis explains the distribution pattern across patches.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 1, 2003

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