If you want to learn about the health of wild animals in the forests of Maine, pay attention to what’s going on with the American marten.
Research at the University of Maine led by Alessio Mortelliti, an associate professor in UMaine’s department of wildlife, fisheries and conservation biology, found that studying marten can tell scientists a great deal about 11 other mammals living in the state.
It showed that the marten could serve as an effective “umbrella monitoring species” for other species living in the same or nearby habitat, including fishers, snowshoe hares, red squirrels and black bears, because tracking martens will automatically detect declines in these other species.
“This is great news for conservation and management agencies as they show that by focusing the efforts on one species, the marten, they will automatically be able to detect declines for many other species,” Mortelliti said.
Funding for the American marten study, which is in its fifth year, was provided by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and the Cooperative Forestry Research Unit.
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However, the marten here in Maine may require more detailed study as disruptions to forests and climate change threaten their existence.
One of the primary benefits achieved by the study, which was published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports, is that the habitats of so many different mammals overlap and can be studied simultaneously. UMaine researchers gathered the data by using camera traps to capture more than 800,000 images of 27 different mammals over a span of four years.
The animals were photographed automatically when they triggered infrared sensors on the cameras.
“This could lead to huge savings, which is not a small thing in a world where conservation resources are so limited,” Mortelliti said of the ability to monitor multiple species by using the camera traps.
Researchers have focused their monitoring protocols during the winter, when interactions with protected species such as the Canada lynx are more likely.
Mortelliti and his team are paying particular attention to how martens and fishers have adapted to increased harvesting of Maine forest habitats. Their efforts compared factors such as latitude, snow depth, level of forest disturbances and the numbers of marten and fisher reported by fur trappers.
According to results published in the journal Ecosphere, the researchers discovered that marten actually are not being disturbed by sharing the landscape with their larger cousin, the fisher.
“Instead, marten are choosing areas with the least forest disturbance, regardless of fisher presence,” said Bryn Evans, recently graduated Ph.D. student and co-author of the study.
“Climate change is also likely to impact marten more intensely than fisher. It’s critical to have a watchful eye over the coming years, so declines in the marten population can be identified quickly.”