Do fine-scale factors shape the use of riparian galleries by carnivores in a Mediterranean agro-forested environment?

Abstract— Riparian galleries are key structural elements of Mediterranean landscapes and their importance for carnivores has been widely demonstrated. However, humanization of the landscape has led to their degradation with consequences not fully understood. In this study we assessed the response of mesocarnivores to the fine-scale variation in the quality of a riparian gallery (Vale do Cobrão stream, central Portugal), evaluated on the basis of the QBR index (‘Qualitat del Bosc de Ribera’ in spanish) and an adaptation of the same considering mesocarnivore ecological requirements. These were represented through four parameters that could influence habitat quality for these species, namely refuge (total riparian cover, cover structure), disturbance and food availability. For the latter we considered the known main food resources for Mediterranean mesocarnivores: small mammals, lagomorphs, insects and fruits. Mesocarnivore use was evaluated through camera-trapping and sign surveys. For both indexes a concordance was observed between quality variation and its use by carnivores, and we also found a positive correlation between both indexes. The adapted QBR, being more laborious but also more realistic, could serve as guidance for conservation practice at the local scale, benefiting both land managers environmentally concerned, conservation practitioners and carnivore populations inhabiting humanized landscapes. However, for spatially wider approaches the original QBR proved to be a good indicator for the presence of mesocarnivores, being useful in the development of restauration or conservation strategies, as well as for research and monitoring activities of carnivore guilds.

Keywords Habitat quality, mesocarnivores, QBR Index, riparian systems, conservation management.

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