Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Let the cat keep chasing the mouse

29.07.2008
Ecological modellers create a scientific basis for a nationwide network of corridors to conserve the European Wild Cat.

For the first time an international researcher team has developed a model, which identifies potential habitats and corridors for the European wildcat (Felis silvestris silvestris).

Using Rheinland-Pfalz as an example, it was demonstrated that almost half of this German federal state could be suitable for wildcats, enabling a maximum population of 1600 females. The model can also be adapted for other regions and could therefore prove to be of significant value in protecting this highly endangered species, researchers write in the scientific journal Biological Conservation. The research forms the scientific basis for a network of forest corridors that BUND, the League for the Environment and Nature Conservation Germany (the German Branch of Friends of the Earth), intends to establish over the following years with the help of the German States.

According to estimates there are currently between 3000 and 5000 wildcats scattered throughout Germany. The nationwide corridors are an attempt to reconnect isolated populations once again and therefore open up new areas for the wildcat in the East of Germany. In Switzerland too, data on populations of wildcats is being collected and modelled, in order to be able to protect this species better in the future.

Comeback of a native

They have been strolling through the forests of Europe since ancient times on their soft velvety paws and certainly long before mankind started to fragment the forest with his axe or before the Romans brought their domestic cats with them from North Africa. Indeed, the wildcat looks very similar to our domesticated cat, but is however only very distantly related to it. Their tails can most easily differentiate the two species: the stockier wildcat has got bushier hair there and more clearly defined dark rings.

Mice serve as their main source of food. The European wildcat has managed to survive mainly in the forests of the Carpathian Mountains, the Balkans, Spain, and France and in the Central German Uplands. Owing to strict conservation measures they have been able to start spreading again slowly over recent decades in Central Europe. Nevertheless, the species is still threatened by the destruction and fragmentation of its habitat as well as through interbreeding with the domestic cat. Furthermore, their long nocturnal wanderings often mean that they become victims of increased road traffic.

German and Spanish researchers from the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research, the Freie Universität Berlin, the Doñana Biological Station of the Spanish Council for Scientific Research, OEKO-LOG field research and the Biological Station in Euskirchen have now been the first ones to develop an ecological model to find suitable habitats for wildcats. In doing so they fitted six tomcats and six feline cats with radio-transmitters to track their home ranges. Over the space of four years a database was developed with over 13,000 entries on the home ranges of wildcats.

A 150 square kilometre area in the southern Eifel region near Wittlich served as the investigation area . Three quarters of the sparsely populated area is covered by forest. Subsequently, the researchers extrapolated their data for the whole of the German Federal State Rhineland-Palatinate (Rheinland-Pfalz), home to approximately half of the entire German wildcat population. A hilly landscape and many forests that make up almost half of the state shape this German Federal state with almost 20,000 square kilometres. The biologist Nina Klar from the UFZ analysed such geographical information for her PhD in order to determine potential suitable habitat for wildcats in Rhineland-Palatinate (Rheinland-Pfalz).

From observation patterns to modeling

The model was tested in two areas: the Bienwald on the border to France and in the northern Eifel region on the border to Belgium. A decisive factor for wildcat habitat proved to be the distance to human settlements: "with the shy forest-dwellers making a large loop around settlements. Within a radius of one kilometre from settlements they occur more rarely and even with individual houses or roads they still keep a distance of 200 meters", reports Nina Klar. "Interestingly, this 'safety distance' overlaps with observations made on the lynx ", her Spanish colleague Dr. Néstor Fernández adds, who has worked on models of both species. "In this way, the wildcats protect themselves not only against humans and dogs, but also come into less contact with domestic cats, which could explain the low rate of interbreeding between the two species."

Apart from the distance they keep from humans, the density of the forest and the proximity to forest edges and meadows also plays a significant role. From their investigations, researchers observed that at night the wildcats often hunted mice on meadows at the edge of the forest and rested during the day in forest thickets: "Areas near water also provide good habitat for wildcats, as water voles (Arvicola terrestris) can occur there, which are a particularly valuable item of prey for wildcats." Almost half of the area of the Rhineland-Palatinate (Rheinland-Pfalz) fulfils the minimum habitat requirements as determined by the researchers. In this German Federal State there would therefore theoretically be room for 1600 wildcats.

In spite of good habitat conditions in two forest areas in the Rhine Valley and northeast of the Rhine no wildcats have been sighted for decades. These areas have obviously been cut off from the population. Suitable corridors are lacking through which the animals could enter these territories. The example is symptomatic: The recluse species could become a resident of many forests once it has made it there.

The Black Forest, the Oberpfälzer Wald, the Erzgebirge, the Thüringer Wald, the Lüneburger Heide and even the extensive forest areas of Brandenburg are currently unmarked spots on the wildcat's distribution map. The populations in Hessen and in the Harz Mountains are also isolated from the population in Rhineland-Palatinate, which prevents genetic exchange and causes inbreeding depression, threatening numbers of wildcats in the long run.

Plans for a nationwide net of migration corridors

On behalf of the League for the Environment and Nature Conservation Germany (BUND), Nina Klar has therefore provided results on potential corridors, with which these forest areas could be connected. Therewith the 2004 started project "rescue network wildcat" of the BUND got a nationwide planning basis for nature conservation on the example of the wild cat. The BUND want to develope with the support of the German states a network comprising of some 20,000 kilometres corridors over the coming years, that would be the equivalent of half of the German Federal highway network.

A milestonewas last autumn the planting of 20000 trees and shrubs for a corridor between the National Park Hainich and the Thueringer Wald. "Nationwide or international planning of nature conservation is the basis for migration corridors of wild animals. The example Hainich shows this is possible." says Thomas Mölich, BUND coordinator of the "rescue network wildcat". This "cat leap" was financed through compensation measures from shifting a section of the A4 motorway. However, where new wildcat corridors cannot be integrated into road construction activities, BUND is still dependent on donations. These donations are to help one of the most original dwellers of our forests to return and at some point in time also reside in the forests of Sachsen, Brandenburg or Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.

Tilo Arnhold | alfa
Further information:
http://www.ufz.de/
http://www.ufz.de/index.php?en=17030

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Dune ecosystem modelling
23.06.2017 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau

nachricht Understanding animal social networks can aid wildlife conservation
23.06.2017 | Leibniz-Institut für Gewässerökologie und Binnenfischerei (IGB)

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Equipping form with function

23.06.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>