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Title: Factors affecting hedgehog distribution and habitat selection in rural landscapes
Author: Pettett, Carly E.
ISNI:       0000 0004 6346 5112
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2015
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The UK population of hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) has halved in rural areas between 2005 and 2015, and hedgehogs select urban areas over arable land. Explanations for the unsuitability of arable land for hedgehogs include: high predation risk by badgers (Meles meles), low prey densities, cold microclimates and low availability of nest sites. I investigated the reasons for hedgehog avoidance of arable land by measuring hedgehog habitat use, ranging behaviour, daily energy expenditure (DEE) and diet along a gradient of habitats from rural villages to arable farmland, under varying predation threat and temperatures. I also examined which factors affected hedgehog presence and abundance nationally. Hedgehogs preferentially selected urban habitats for both foraging and nesting, including gardens and buildings. A hedgehog's mean distance to buildings over a season was positively correlated with home range size and DEE, conceivably due to higher prey availability in rural villages and the need for increased movement on arable land to achieve sufficient food intake. I found little evidence that the prey taxa hedgehogs consumed changed along the gradient from buildings to arable land, although all hedgehogs consumed pet food, suggesting that supplementary feeding is one reason hedgehogs are attracted to buildings. On sites where badgers were present hedgehogs stayed closer to edge habitats and buildings, had smaller home ranges, spent less time on arable land, and had a lower DEE. Badger presence is one likely cause of hedgehogs' avoidance of arable land and their selection of rural villages, where badgers are found at lower densities. Nationally, badger abundance and fox (Vulpes vulpes) abundance was negatively associated with hedgehog abundance. Landowners on farms under Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) were more likely to report having seen hedgehogs than landowners on farms not under HLS. I conclude that rural villages are a key habitat for sustaining hedgehog numbers in the countryside and the connectivity between these island populations should be enhanced through the implementation of agri-environment schemes. Higher-tier schemes may also increase habitat complexity, which could potentially reduce the predation pressure from badgers, as well as enhancing hedgehogs' invertebrate food supply.
Supervisor: Macdonald, David ; Johnson, Paul ; Moorhouse, Tom Sponsor: People's Trust for Endangered Species ; British Hedgehog Preservation Society
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available