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Spatial organization, group living and ecological correlates in badgers

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Journal

Journal of Animal Ecology, Volume 71,Number 3, May 2002, pp. 497-512 - Blackwell Publishing

Authors

Revilla E.; Palomares F.

Abstract

  1. Territoriality and group living are described in a low-density population of Eurasian badgers, Meles meles L., by studying the patterns of spatial grouping and territory marking, as well as the differences between individuals in some of their characteristics (body condition and dispersal) and in their space use (seasonally, periods of activity and interaction between pairs of individuals) under strong seasonal fluctuations in the availability of the key resource (young rabbits, Oryctolagus cuniculus L.). Finally, the role of the spatial distribution of the main prey (young rabbits) in the development of sociality was also studied in order to test some of the assumptions and predictions of the resource dispersion hypothesis (RDH).

  2. Badgers were territorial, showing a flexible system of territory marking, which includes the marking of the most used areas (sett-latrines at the centres of activity) and additionally, at the smaller territories, a system of border-latrines in the areas of contact between territories. The maximum use of border-latrines was associated with the reproductive season, and that of sett-latrines with the season of food scarcity.

  3. In the study area where badgers had rabbits as main prey, territories were occupied by small groups of animals, formed by one adult female who reproduced, one adult male who also showed signs of reproductive activity, the cubs of the year (if there was reproduction) and some animals born during previous years, which remained in their natal territory until their dispersal (normally during the mating season of their third or fourth year of life). This system was not strictly fixed as males, given the opportunity, expanded their territories to encompass additional females. Territories in another study site were occupied by one adult female (marked), plus the cubs of the year and another adult individual (unmarked).

  4. In winter and spring dominant females and subordinates used only a small fraction of their territories, moved short distances, at a low speed and covering small areas per night. These seasons corresponded with the reproduction of rabbits (highest food availability). Dominant females were the only individuals using all the territory available in the summer (lowest food availability), when badgers had the worst body condition. Food availability increased again in autumn, as did body condition, while range sizes were again reduced. Dominant males used the same proportion of their territories over all seasons. However, in winter (reproductive season) they moved faster, over longer distances, and covered larger areas per period of activity. These results indicate that use of space by dominant males was affected by different factors from that of dominant females and subordinates.

  5. RDH does not seem to explain group living in our populations because: (a) territoriality in each pair of primary animals was driven by different factors (trophic resources for females and females for males); (b) dominant males acted as expansionists; and (c) territory size was related to its richness and not to patch dispersion.

  6. We propose an integrative hypothesis to explain not only group formation but also interpopulation variability in the social organization of badgers within ecological, demographic and behavioural constraints and in the light of current theory on delayed dispersal.

Keywords

group living; integrative hypothesis; Meles meles; resource dispersion hypothesis; social organization; sociality; space use; territoriality

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