Curveira-Santos, G., Pedroso, N.M., Barros, A.L. & Santos-Reis, M. (2019) Mesocarnivore community structure under predator control: Unintended patterns in a conservation context.PLOS One, 14(1), e0210661. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0210661 (IF2019 2,740; Q1 Multidisciplinary Sciences)
Across the Mediterranean, conservation programmes often operate concomitantly with hunting interests within game-lands. Carnivore guilds lie at the interface between contrasting management goals, being simultaneously fundamental components of ecosystems and targets of predator control to reduce predation on game species. Here, we evaluate the composition and spatial structure of a mesocarnivore community in a protected area of Southeast Portugal, with high economic investment in conservation and significant hunting activity. Between June and August 2015, we deployed 77 camera-traps across a ~80 km2 area. We report on interspecific disparities in mesocarnivore occupancy and associated environmental determinants. Contrasting occupancy states suggest an unbalanced community, biased towards the widespread occurrence of the red fox Vulpes vulpes () compared to other species (stone marten Martes foina, European badger Meles meles, Egyptian mongoose Herpestes ichneumon, common genet Genetta genetta, and Eurasian otter Lutra lutra) exhibiting spatially-restricted occupancy patterns (). The feral cat Felis silvestris catus was the exception () and, together with the stone marten, exhibited a positive association with human settlements. These findings are consistent with theoretical predictions on how mesocarnivore communities are shaped by the effects of non-selective predator control, paradoxically favouring species with higher population growth rates and dispersal abilities, such as the red fox. Our results reinforce the need to understand the role of predator control as a community structuring agent with potential unintended effects, while exposing issues hindering such attempts, namely non-selective illegal killing or biased/concealed information on legal control measures.