Riparian ecosystems serve as movement and dispersal corridors; however, the factors that determine their use by multiple species of carnivores remain unknown. Two hypotheses can explain carnivore presence in riparian ecosystems. Higher riparian plant richness, diversity, and structure provide the resources used by carnivores (resting sites, cover, and food). Alternatively, areas with higher water availability allow species to withstand water loss and thermal gradients in the high summer temperatures. In southern Portugal we surveyed 70 transects 2 km long along riparian ecosystems during the wet winter months and again in the dry summer months, recording signs of carnivore species and the environmental context in which they occurred (vegetation descriptors, surrounding landscape, and waterway type and condition). Five carnivore species used riparian ecosystems (stone marten [Martes foina], Eurasian badger [Meles meles], common genet [Genetta genetta], Egyptian mongoose [Herpestes ichneumon], and red fox [Vulpes vulpes]). Riparian ecosystems had a diverse and heterogeneous plant community with a mix of obligate riparian, Mediterranean sclerophyllous, and exotic species. Most carnivore species responded to water channel type and standing water availability in both seasons, except for the stone marten in the wet season, which uses areas with rich riparian vegetation. Our results suggest that the use of riparian ecosystems is linked to water availability that provides water, prey, and external temperature regulation.
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Vol. 92 • No. 5