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Title: Pine marten diet and habitat use within a managed coniferous forest
Author(s): Caryl, Fiona Mae
Supervisor(s): Park, Kirsty J.
Keywords: Martes
foraging ecology
habitat selection
molecular scatology
Issue Date: Dec-2008
Publisher: University of Stirling
Abstract: Increased afforestation and protective legislation in the latter half of the 20th Century allowed the British pine marten Martes martes population to recover from near extinction. Although still largely confined to northern Scotland, the marten population is expanding its size and range by utlising coniferous plantation forests which have become increasingly available. However, little is known about the marten’s ecology in plantation forestry, and less about how they may adapt to changing silvicultural trends. This study investigated aspects of pine marten ecology within Morangie forest, a managed plantation in NE Scotland, with the ultimate aim of formulating management guidelines for modern plantation forests. During the course of the study 11 pine marten were radiotracked and their home ranges mapped to examine marten-habitat associations at several spatial scales. Compositional analysis of habitat based on dominant vegetation type showed that martens established their home ranges in areas dominated by mature forest, whilst showing relative avoidance for open heath moor and grazed pasture. Within home ranges, foraging martens utilised patches of graminoid vegetation, such as those typically associated with Microtus voles, in areas with little or no tree canopy cover. These findings provide unequivocal evidence that fine-scale patches of non-forested habitat provide crucial foraging resources for marten, and therefore ought to be provisioned for in forest management plans. To assist the implementation of these requirements in forest planning, a model was developed to predict the fine scale distribution of Microtus-rich foraging habitat for marten using GIS-based habitat variables that are routinely available to forest managers: topographic wetness index, stand tree height and stand basal area. Management recommendations of ways to improve wind-firm plantation forests as habitats for pine marten are provided. To augment the investigation of marten spatial ecology, the diet of martens was examined seasonally through the analysis of contents from c. 2450 scats, 86 % of which were genetically identified as being pine marten in origin. Marten diets displayed marked seasonality, but small mammals, berries and small birds were the principal foods consumed based on both frequency of occurrence and estimated weight of biomass ingested. Comparison of the relative composition of small mammal species in the diet with those available in the environment revealed that marten displayed an indisputable preference for Microtus voles. Such habits demonstrate that the niche of Scottish martens has diverged from those in mainland populations which predominantly prey upon Clethrionomys voles. A comparison of the marten’s winter diet with those found in studies at similar latitudes (58°N) demonstrated that the Scottish diet was more similar to diets at more southerly latitudes as they contained more fruit and fewer large mammals than typically boreal diets. Investigation of inter-annual variation of the marten’s spring diet from five successive years revealed that Microtus were consistently the most important prey species in the diet each year. Indirect evidence of the relative abundance of Microtus suggested that Microtus populations were non-cyclic. Findings are discussed with reference to the unique ecological circumstances confronting marten in the Scotland; typical of insular populations the UK has a depauperate native fauna in comparison with mainland Europe, in addition to this, mild climatic conditions, particularly over winter, and a historically fragmented landscape appear to have allowed the niche of the Scottish marten to diverge from that considered typical elsewhere in its range. The Scottish marten is dependent on both forested and open habitats, and is both a Microtus specialist and trophic generalist.
Type: Thesis or Dissertation
Affiliation: School of Natural Sciences
Biological and Environmental Sciences

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