Hot spot for pine marten (Martes martes) and first record of a natal den in Flanders (Belgium)
From 2000 to 2011, pine marten (Martes martes) reproduction has been regularly recorded in a small forest complex of about 250 hectares in the north of the Province of East Flanders (Flanders, Belgium). The local habitat is characterised by a mix of forest types, in which coppice stands and fen forest patches are prevailing on substantial surfaces, combined with many small satellite woodlands spread out around the margin. The home range size of a radio-collared breeding female, recorded from August 2010 to April 2011, appeared to be very small (<1 km²), elsewhere in Europe only found in the pristine forest of Bialowieza (Poland) which is home to a very dense pine marten population, or in ‘a-typical’ habitat composed of hedged farmland with small forest fragments in the French Ardennes. However, the location studied here appears to be peculiar not only as it is a small and fragmented habitat for pine marten, but even more as it is an isolated hot spot in an open landscape, far from any massive forest complex that holds a vital pine marten population. The home range was located in the most compact centre of the forest complex and was intensively used throughout the whole study period. Remarkably, a 20 metre broad channel was bisecting the home range, not at all being a barrier although it can only be crossed over by active swimming. This finding should be noted with respect to possible attempts of diminishing predation risks from martens (e.g. to rare breeding birds) by creating landscape ‘barriers’ such as broad ditches or even channels. Given the preliminary results of telemetry and camera trapping, the pine marten’s social system remains unclear to some extent in situations where suitable habitat is very limiting and the presence of direct neighbours is obscure.