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Over-Winter Survival and Nest Site Selection of the West-European Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) in Arable Dominated Landscapes

Animals

Abstract

Simple Summary Hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) have declined markedly in the UK in recent decades. One key stage that could affect their population dynamics is the annual winter hibernation period. Therefore, we studied two contrasting populations in England to examine patterns of winter nest use, body mass changes and survival during hibernation. On average, animals at both sites weighed the same prior to, and used the same number of nests, during hibernation. There was a marked difference in survival rates between the two sites, but no animals died during hibernation; all deaths occurred prior to or after the hibernation period, mainly from predation or vehicle collisions. Hedgehogs consistently nested in proximity to some habitats (hedgerows, roads, woodlands) but avoided others (pasture fields); the use of other habitats (arable fields, amenity grassland, buildings) varied between the two sites. These data suggest: (i) that hibernation was not a period of significant mortality at either site for individuals that had attained a sufficient weight (>600 g) in autumn; but that (ii) habitat composition did significantly affect the positioning of winter nests, such that different land management practices (historic and current) could influence hibernation success. The West-European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) has declined markedly in the UK. The winter hibernation period may make hedgehogs vulnerable to anthropogenic habitat and climate changes. Therefore, we studied two contrasting populations in England to examine patterns of winter nest use, body mass changes and survival during hibernation. No between-site differences were evident in body mass prior to hibernation nor the number of winter nests used, but significant differences in overwinter mass change and survival were observed. Mass change did not, however, affect survival rates; all deaths occurred prior to or after the hibernation period, mainly from predation or vehicle collisions. Hedgehogs consistently nested in proximity to hedgerows, roads and woodlands, but avoided pasture fields; differences between sites were evident for the selection for or avoidance of arable fields, amenity grassland and buildings. Collectively, these data indicate that hibernation was not a period of significant mortality for individuals that had attained sufficient weight (>600 g) pre-hibernation. Conversely, habitat composition did significantly affect the positioning of winter nests, such that different land management practices (historic and current) might potentially influence hibernation success. The limitations of this study and suggestions for future research are discussed.

Author(s): Bearman-Brown, LE; Baker, PJ; Scott, D; Uzal, A; Evans, L; Yarnell, RW

Journal: Animals

Year: 2020

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