Seasonal and spatial pattern of shelter use by badgers Meles meles in Białowieża Primeval Forest (Poland)
In 1997-2001, we investigated the use of day-time shelters by radio-collared badgers Meles meles (Linnaeus, 1758) in the Białowieża Primeval Forest, eastern Poland. Each social group of badgers utilised, on average, 9 different shelters per territory (range: 4-20). The main setts, occupied for breeding and winter sleep, were also most frequently used for day-time rest throughout the year (73% of days). Badgers living in the pristine oldgrowth stands utilised larger number of shelters and spent more days in hollow trees (mainly lime Tilia cordata), compared to badgers inhabiting younger secondary tree stands. Number of shelters used by individuals varied between seasons and depended on sex and age of animals. In summer, badgers used more shelters than in spring and autumn. In winter, they stayed in their main setts only. Adult males occupied more shelters and spent fewer days in the main sett than other badgers. In spring, females rearing young used only the main setts. The average underground space used by badgers within the main sett was 128 m2. It was largest in summer and smallest in winter, and also varied between males and females. We proposed that, in a low-density population, badgers used several setts and other daily shelters to reduce energy expenditure when exploring their large territories and foraging. Furthermore, setts may play a role of marking sites. Analysis of the biogeographical pattern of sett use by European badgers showed that the number of setts used by social groups increased with increasing territory size, whereas the density of setts (n setts/km2) was negatively correlated with territory size. We proposed that different factors could shape the utilisation of setts by badgers in low- and high-density populations.
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