Decline in Endangered Species as an Indication of Anthropic Pressures: The Case of European Mink Mustela lutreola Western Population
Populations of threatened species, especially predators at the top of the food chain, may be affected by anthropic pressures. The endangered western population of European mink Mustela lutreola has shown a large decline over 50% of its natural range. M. lutreola disappeared from northwestern France between 1984 and 1997, and the decline was associated with an increase in mustelid trapping, changes in watercourse quality, and habitat modifications due to agricultural practices. The pattern of decline showed a fragmentation restricting the minks into very small areas. Trapping was the first known cause of mortality. Although feral American mink Mustela vison may compete with autochthonous carnivores, M. lutreola had disappeared from streams before the introduction of the American species, suggesting that competitive interactions were not responsible. Furthermore, American mink has never been found or has remained rare in 62.4% of the area from which M. lutreola has disappeared. During the past 25 years, permanent grassland surfaces were reduced by 40%, whereas fodder culture increased by 470%, causing considerable habitat changes. Furthermore, 55.7% of water courses were classified as being of bad quality or polluted. Therefore, our data suggests that a conjunction of intensive trapping, alterations in water quality and habitat modification was critical for the European mink's decline. Although there are difficulties in ascribing specific cause to distribution changes in a top predator, this decline can be regarded as an indication for anthropic pressures on natural habitats.