- Department of Wildlife, Fish and Environmental Studies, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
Osinga, Thomas; Thurfjell, Henrik; Hofmeester, Tim R.
Many species show range expansions or contractions due to climate change induced changes in habitat suitability. In cold climates, many species that are limited by snow are showing range expansions due to reduced winter severity. The European polecat Mustela putorius occurs over large parts of Europe with its northern range limit in southern Fennoscandia. However, it is to date unknown what factors limit polecat distribution. We thus investigated whether climate or land-use variables are more important in determining the habitat suitability for polecats in Sweden. We hypothesized that 1) climatic factors, especially the yearly number of snow days, drive habitat suitability for polecats, and that, 2) as the number of snow days is predicted to decline in the near future, habitat suitability in northern Sweden will increase. We used a combination of sightings data and a selection of national maps of environmental factors to test these hypotheses using Maxent models. We also used maps of future climate predictions (2021-2050 and 2063-2098) to predict future habitat suitability. The number of snow days was the most important factor, negatively determining habitat suitability for polecats, as expected. Consequently, the predictions showed an increase in suitable habitat both in the current distribution range and in northern Sweden, especially along the coast of the Baltic Sea. Our results suggest that the polecat distribution is limited by snow and that reduced snow cover will likely result in a northward range expansion. However, the exact mechanisms for how snow limits polecats are still poorly understood. The potential range expansion might result in a population increase of the Scandinavian polecat population, in contrast to many populations elsewhere in Europe, where numbers are declining. Due to polecat predation, the expansion of the species might have cascading effects on other wildlife populations.
climate change; habitat suitability; Maxent; Mustelidae; snow cover
2023, Volume: 2023, number: 1
SDG15 Life on land