Lutra 57(2)_Piza Roca et al_2014

Environmental drivers of the distribution and density of the European badger (Meles meles): a review

Knowing the environmental factors affecting species’ distribution is an important basic step in ecological research. Here, we present a literature review on the environmental factors influencing European badger (Meles meles) distribution and density. According to the published literature, the badger is a highly adaptive species, capable of using different environmental services and adapting to different conditions. However, when studying badger populations across their distribution, a general pattern of preferred environmental characteristics and influencing factors arises. These environmental characteristics may indicate the badger’s realised niche and may potentially give an approximation of its fundamental niche. A combination of environmental factors favouring both sett (burrow) location and food availability appears to drive local badger success: terrain characteristics (both suitable soil type for sett excavation and terrain heterogeneity for visual hiding), wood coverage and earthworm-rich grassland. The presence and density of badgers vary depending on the geographic study area and the relative importance of these specific environmental drivers. We discuss how these insights can assist spatial modelling studies, conservation and management, and future research on habitat suitability and badger density. We stress that more research is needed to understand how each component of the life cycle of badgers is affected by environmental drivers, and what the cumulative effect is on their spatial population dynamics.