Wildlife: Jackals spreading into central Europe

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A golden jackal photographed in the Czech Republic. Photo courtesy Klára Pyšková.

Changing climate, shifting species

Staff Report

Climate change and other impacts from human activities are enabling jackals to spread into parts of Europe, scientists said after documenting the first living golden jackal in the Czech Republic. The mammal, native to northern Africa and southern Eurasia, was photographed by motion sensors cameras several times just 40 kilometers from Prague, according to a new study published in the open access journal ZooKeys.

“The habitat, where the golden jackal decided to settle, resembles the landscapes which these animals prefer in their natural distribution area, the Balkans – an open grass-shrubland surrounded by a forest. It is one of the warmest areas in the country, with mild winters.The observed animal was mostly active at dusk and dawn, with majority of the sightings occurring in the morning hours,” said researcher Klára Pyšková, who co-authored the paper with  a group of researchers from Charles University and Institute of Botany of the Czech Academy of Sciences, among them her supervisors Ivan Horáček and David Storch.

The paper reports on long-term monitoring of the animal in a 90-square-kilometer tract of land. According to the paper, the golden jackal first reached the Czech republic in the late 1990s, probably coming from Austria. The first, albeit unconfirmed report of its presence is from May of 1998, of two individuals reportedly sighted in central Bohemia. Almost a decade later, in 2006, a carcass of an adult golden jackal was found by the side of the road in Moravia, the eastern part of the country.

Since then, several verified and non-verified records have been made. The photographs captured by Klára Pyšková were the first evidence of a living individual that seems to have settled permanently in the country. The researchers have not observed any cubs or a mate, and although they cannot completely dismiss the occurrence of another individual, they consider it very unlikely. The sex of the animal could not be determined.

“While the golden jackal is a species that has historically never lived in the area, where the study was conducted, and, therefore, might not be appropriate to call it native, it cannot be considered invasive. Invasive species are those that have been intentionally or unintentionally brought to a new area by humans — this is not the case of the golden jackal here,” Pyšková said.

“This being said, there are several factors that have likely facilitated the spread, including indirect human influence,” she said. “Ongoing global change is bringing about shifts in species distributions that include both the spread of populations of invasive species and range expansions or contractions of native biota. In Europe, this is typically reflected in species moving from the south-eastern part of the continent to the north-west, most often in response to increasing temperatures that allow organisms to colonize areas that were previously unsuitable. Other suggested factors are human-caused changes in the overall character of landscapes, the lack of natural predators, particularly wolves, and high adaptability of the species.”

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