Behavioural ecology of the European badger (Meles meles) : diet, food availability and use of space in the Maremma Natural Park, central Italy
The diet of the European badger in the Maremma Natural Park consisted of fruits and insects and these food categories constituted about 90% of the total amount of food eaten (by volume) in each year of the study. Faecal analyses showed that earthworms and the remaining food resources played a secondary role in the diet. Temporal and spatial variation occurred in the diet; insects were exploited mainly during winter and spring, and fruits mainly during summer and autumn. The bulk of the food comprised juniper berries in the pinewood, and Coleoptera larvae and adults, strawberry-tree fruits and blackberries in the grazing areas and maquis. Most food resources showed spatial variation, being regular (e.g. junipers, blackberries) in the pinewood, but contagious (e.g. blackberries, grasshoppers) or random (junipers, strawberry-trees) in the grazing areas and maquis. The occurrence of contagiously-distributed and long-lasting food resources in the diet was correlated with their availability in the grazing areas, whereas the occurrence in the diet of regularly-distributed and long-lasting foods was not correlated with their availability in the pinewood.To investigate the spacing pattern and use of space by badgers, seven individuals were radio-tracked. Badgers were solitary, with adult males living in a territory 4--5 times larger than that of adult females, which had a territory of 30--40 ha. The size of individual territories was fairly constant with latrines located mostly near the territory boundary. The movement pattern and use of space by badgers appeared to reflect the spatial and temporal availability of the most important food resources in their territory. This study confirms the relationship between feeding ecology and social organisation of badgers and suggests that in areas where they rely on markedly seasonal, less abundant food resources the spacing of badgers reverts to the basic mustelid pattern of solitary individuals.