Ecology of Raccoons in Central Alabama: A Study of Survival, Space Use, and Habitat Selection
Type of DegreeThesis
Forestry and Wildlife Sciences
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Population characteristics of raccoons (Procyon lotor) vary across time and geographic regions; biological information acquired in one region, at one time, may not be pertinent to other regions in other times. In Alabama, demographic studies of raccoon populations date back several decades and little knowledge of current ecological trends exists. Increasing urban populations and alterations in the southeastern landscape affect the availability and distribution of favorable habitat and resources; however, raccoon abundance in the Southeast has increased because of its ability to adapt to such alterations. Stable or increasing populations of raccoons have ecological importance for wildlife, domestic animals, and humans, by increasing the opportunity for competition and conflict over resources, nuisance problems, and disease transmission. The management of wildlife in Alabama, specifically of raccoons, must also be able to continuously adapt to the ever-changing environment. Over 60 raccoons were monitored at 3 study sites, representative of several distinct habitat types, in central Alabama from 2004-2005 in order to monitor survivorship, static interactions, home range characteristics, and preferred habitat use. Survivorship of adult raccoons was high in all study areas and differed little between genders. Raccoons exhibited extensive static overlap of home ranges, but static interactions at the level of core use areas appeared less common. Habitat use was examined at three orders of selection and did not differ between genders. Compositional analyses for habitat use at each study site illustrated that used differed from random; at levels of intense activity (i.e., core use areas), animals selected proportionately more hardwood and riparian habitat than other habitat types available in their home ranges. Habitat selection at the level of home range composition showed that pine forest, grassy openings, and areas of human development were preferred by raccoons over hardwoods and riparian areas, dependent on resource availability. Results from this study will aid management of raccoons in Alabama by contributing to current knowledge of population characteristics that allow this species to adapt to, and thrive in, altered landscapes.