Graduation Year

2015

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.S.

Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.)

Degree Granting Department

Biology (Integrative Biology)

Major Professor

Earl McCoy, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Henry Mushinsky, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Gordon Fox, Ph.D.

Keywords

conservation, habitat loss, hydrology, presence/absence

Abstract

North American river otters are considered common in the state of Florida, but their populations have not been studied since the 1980’s. Since that time, Florida’s human population has more than doubled, and many natural areas of Florida have been developed. The aim of this study was to determine the presence or absence of river otters at locations in Florida which they historically inhabited. Forty-six sample sites where otters were historically found were obtained from the Florida Museum of Natural History Mammals Master Database (FMNH MMD). These sites were condensed to two focus areas, in and around Alachua and Collier Counties, where the sites were most highly clustered. Each site was surveyed to determine the presence or absence of river otters and to determine the suitability of the site’s environment for otter habitation. Sites with favorable habitat features for otters were surveyed a second time. River otters were not found at any site. Only 9 of the 46 sites had permanent water and only 8 of those had other habitat features preferred by otters. Therefore, only 17.39% of sites that historically supported otters likely still have the ability to do so. Loss of water over time is most likely the result of human disturbances such as the draining, damming, and canalizing of wetlands. As a result of this loss of natural habitat, river otters have become increasingly common in urban areas wither preferred habitat features, even if they are man-made. The increased presence near humans may have led to the apparently inaccurate assumption that otters are common, and, therefore, do not need protection.

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