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Title: An integrative approach to inform invasive species management : the case of American mink (Neovison vison) in West Scotland
Author: Fraser, Elaine J.
Awarding Body: University of Aberdeen
Current Institution: University of Aberdeen
Date of Award: 2013
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The detrimental impact of invasive, non-native species on biodiversity conservation and ecosystem function is widely recognised. The invasion of predatory species can have particularly deleterious consequences on native species in the invaded range and there is an increasing awareness of, and necessity for, management action to minimise these impacts. There is a growing body of literature identifying the impacts of invasive species and priorities for conservation action. However, there is a noticeable gap between the rising scientific output regarding invasive species control and conservation measures, and the management action required to implement recommendations. The American mink (Neovison vison, hereafter mink) has been a recent focus of invasive species research and management. Mink are semi-aquatic mustelids and generalist predators and were introduced to countries around the world for fur farming. Feral populations have established across the introduced range with devastating consequences for native species, particularly birds and mammals. In the UK, mink are held partly responsible for the decline in water voles (Arvicola amphibius) and in Scotland in particular, breeding seabirds are significantly impacted by mink predation. Control of mink in North East Scotland has proven successful using an adaptive management, community-based approach but there is currently no equivalent project in the complex, coastal landscape of west Scotland. This study aimed to provide information that could refine and further develop management plans for mink in north and west Scotland by acquiring a better understanding of the ecology of mink in Scotland to inform the implementation of control. Mink were distributed across all but the far north of Scotland. There was spatial and temporal variation in the pattern and rate of their expansion which was attributed to landscape heterogeneity. In northwest Scotland, availability of suitable habitat was restricted to the coastline and consequently, the availability of prey was hypothesised to be limited to coastal areas. Indeed, the diet of mink in northwest Scotland had a greater input from marine resources than those in southwest Scotland, where habitat availability and, therefore, terrestrial food resources, extended inland. Landscape features were shown to affect the direction of colonisation, with mountains restricting and valleys facilitating dispersal. Population genetic studies confirmed that mink dispersal in northwest and northeast Scotland was limited by mountain barriers. Additionally, populations in northwest Scotland were likely to have originated from southwest Scotland. These results suggest that mink control should be primarily focussed in coastal habitats in west Scotland and that the risk of reinvasion from relatively close populations in northeast Scotland is minimal. Volunteer involvement in conservation projects is being accepted increasingly as a cost-effective way to gather ecological information and implement conservation over large spatial scales. The landscape of west Scotland, particularly in northern areas, is complex, remote and sparsely populated by humans which consequently creates challenges for executing mink control. Ecotourism boat operators were concerned about the presence of mink and their effect on local wildlife in coastal areas and were willing to volunteer in mink management. Consequently ecotourism boat operators could provide a key link between management recommendations and implementation. This study combined methodologies from ecological modelling, population genetics, chemical analyses and social science to address questions regarding invasive species management. This holistic approach has resulted in a thorough overview of the distribution and ecology of an invasive species as well as recommendations for management action and implementation that will be applicable to a range of invasive species.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Scottish Natural Heritage ; University of Aberdeen ; University of Oxford ; Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU)
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: American mink ; Introduced animals