MSc Ecology Evolution and Conservation, Imperial College, London (2008-2009)
BSc Biochemistry and Microbiology, University of Sheffield (2001-2004)
Supervisors: Dr Kirsty Park (University of Stirling), Prof Dave Goulson (University of Stirling), Dr Chris Quine (Forest Research), Dr Ron Summers (RSPB)
Start Date: 1st October 2010
fax: +(44) 1786 467843
email: Laura Kubasiewicz
Ecology & conservation management of pine martens in fragmented landscapes
Funded by the Forestry Commission, RSPB and the University of Stirling
The pine marten was heavily persecuted during the heyday of sporting estates in Scotland, and its range restricted to the northwest Highlands by the early 20th century. However, a number of factors (legal protection in 1988, the reduction in numbers of gamekeepers and increase in woodland area) have helped its return to parts of its former range.
Studies of pine martens in Scotland have shown that the diet varies seasonally, with small mammals, berries (in late summer/autumn) and small birds being the main foods. Recent work in a plantation has shown that martens establish their home ranges in areas dominated by forests and dense shrubs. Within home ranges, martens utilised areas of grassy vegetation within the forest which are typically associated with Microtus voles, for which a strong selective preference over other small mammals is shown.
The aim of this PhD is threefold:
Recent work has indicated that the occurrence of small mammals in the diet of pine marten increases with the amount of forest fragmentation. There is also some limited evidence to suggest that marten density increases with increasing fragmentation up to a maximum level (where forested extent is ~ 37%), after which they decline. These data are, however, based on a relatively small number of sites within Scotland due, in part, to the difficulty in assessing marten densities. Estimates of marten density and an assessment of diet from scat samples will be made at four sites including Abernethy Forest National Nature Reserve.
Recent developments in DNA extraction from scats and identification of this species to the individual level now mean that we could estimate population densities of marten using scat sample analysis. This has a large number of potential benefits - Improved population estimates would allow monitoring of patterns in marten populations on a wider geographic scale than has been possible to date and collection from multiple sites will enable assessments of the effect of fragmentation on dispersal and gene flow. Calibration with traditional population indices will also be possible.
There is concern at Abernethy Forest NNR that martens may be reducing the breeding success of Capercaillie. Manipulation of key marten prey habitat may provide a non-lethal way of reducing marten densities in areas where they may conflict with other protected species. This project will provide vital information on the favoured habitat and current population densities of small mammals, particularly Microtus voles, within Abernethy Forest NNR. Alternatively, diversionary feeding during critical times of year may reduce predation of eggs and young chicks. Options for manipulation of marten densities and/or diet at Abernethy will be explored as part of this PhD.