Estimating weasel Mustela nivalis abundance from tunnel tracking indices at fluctuating field vole Microtus agrestis density

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Quantifying the abundance of small mustelids is important both for conservation purposes and for our understanding of ecosystem processes. Footprint tunnel tracking is one of the techniques now used to index the relative abundance of small mammals; however, there have been few or no previous attempts to calibrate indices of mustelid abundance derived from footprint tunnel tracking. Weasel Mustela nivalis abundance was assessed by footprint tunnel tracking and simultaneous live-trapping, either capture-mark-recapture or removal, in six sites in northern England from April 1998 to February 2000. The number of tunnels with weasel footprints was tightly related to the number of weasels live-trapped, although, as expected, the relationship varied,with field vole Microtus agrestis density and season. Temperature had only a weak effect in the calibration. The same number of tunnels with weasel footprints was equivalent to greater weasel abundance at high vole density than at low vole density. Similarly, weasel abundance was greater for the same number of tunnels with weasel footprints in summer and autumn than in winter and spring. In conclusion, it is important to correct for variation in vole density when using activity indices such as footprint tunnel tracking to sample weasel abundance, otherwise spurious patterns may emerge from the use of such index data.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)279-287
Number of pages9
JournalWildlife Biology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2002


  • density
  • footprint tracking indices
  • live trapping
  • Mustela nivalis
  • northern England
  • population cycles
  • specialist predators
  • weasel
  • rats rattus-rattus
  • New-Zealand
  • cyclic dynamics
  • small mammals
  • home-range
  • population
  • predation
  • erminea
  • stoats
  • forest

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