A survey of mammal species using camera trap photographs in Turkish Red Pine Pinus brutia woodlands

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Figure 1. Camera trap photographs of the melanistic Grey Wolf individual and his mate recorded in April 2013 in the Marmaris region.

As a result of wolf extirpation by humans, the distribution of the Grey Wolf (Canis lupus) critically declined during the last century and many populations are nearly extinct in Western Europe (Boitani, 1995) and North America (Mech, 1970). In Europe, they are distributed from sea level up to over 2000 metres. In central and southern areas, human pressure has forced them to retreat to mountainous areas above 600 metres (Sulkava & Pulliainen, 1999). In Turkey, the occurrence is restricted to regions where human effects are at a minimum. The range in Turkey has reduced over the last 50 years as a result of extermination efforts and the indirect effects of habitat fragmentation. The population size is estimated to be about 5,000–7,000 individuals and is currently going through a declining phase (Salvatori & Linnell, 2005). Regional extinctions have occurred in particular along the whole lowlands of the Mediterranean and Aegean regions due to poisoning by livestock owners and hunting during the last half century (Salvatori & Linnell, 2005; Albayrak, 2011; M. Kantarlı, pers. comm., 15 September 2013). Wolves can only survive in habitats with topological and anthropogenic barriers (Albayrak, 2011). Although, like other large carnivores, it is a sensitive indicator of ecosystem integrity (Ä°lemin & Gürkan, 2010), only a few studies have been conducted directly on wolves in Turkey (Can, 2001; BuzbaÅŸ, 2002; Can & Togan, 2009; Ertürk, 2010; Albayrak, 2011). According to these studies Grey Wolves inhabit undisturbed steppes, forestlands and other areas where they find adequate prey such as Wild Boar (Sus scrofa Linnaeus, 1758), Red Deer (Cervus elaphus Linnaeus, 1758), Roe Deer (Capreolus capreolus (Linnaeus, 1758)), Brown Hare (Lepus eurapaeus Pallas, 1788) and livestock. Zoological and ecological data on the presence and population status of Grey Wolves can be obtained using several direct and indirect methods. One of the most popular and useful tools for these researches is the camera trapping method as an indirect method, which is used in this study.

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The study was carried out in Turkish Red Pine Pinus brutia woodlands at different post-fire succession regeneration stages in the Marmaris district of MuÄŸla province (36°82'N, 28°19'E). These woodlands burned several times in 1974, 1992, 1996 and 1997. As a result of these fires the site is interspersed with areas of high shrub vegetation with evergreen plant species (maquis) and low shrub vegetation (phrygana) predominantly covered by Phillyrea latifolia, Quercus infectoria, Cistus salviifolius, C. creticus, Smilax aspera, Erica spp., Thymus spp., Genista acanthoclada (KaynaÅŸ & Gürkan, 2008; Ä°lemin & Gürkan, 2010). The altitude ranges between sea level and 350 m a.s.l. There are no human activities such as agriculture or livestock. The only human effects are yachting along the Bay of Gökova and sylviculture practices carried out by the Ministry of Forestry. There are populations of feral horses and donkeys, which were released into the wild by previous resident villagers before they left their villages. Feral dogs were never encountered in this study.

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The mammal survey was conducted between April and July 2013 by using 7 Bushnell camera traps (Bushnell, Trophy Cam, Kansas, USA). The cameras were placed approximately 1.5–2 km apart to maximize the area that was covered, a distance similar to that in various other studies (Ä°lemin & Gürkan, 2010; Akbaba & AyaÅŸ, 2012). Altogether, there were 384 camera trap days at 7 stations.

During our survey, we recorded nine wild mammal species and two feral mammal species (Table 1). Altogether, four Grey Wolf pictures were obtained from one camera trap station located at an altitude of 215 m a.s.l. All these records belong to one pair. The first records of this pair were taken at midnight (between 00.36 and 00.40) on 29 April, 2013; the second records of the same pair were taken again at midnight (23.58), just one week later on 4 May, 2013. In addition to the Grey Wolves, I recorded three more carnivore species at the same camera trap station, i.e. Caracal (Caracal caracal), Brown Bear (Ursus arctos) and Badger (Meles meles).

Table 1. Total number of events in 384 camera trap days and the number of events per 100 camera trap days for each mammal species in the study area.

Species

Total no. of events

Events per 100 camera trap days

Wild Boar (Sus scrofa)

26

7.0

Caracal (Caracal caracal)

16

4.0

Marten (Martes foina)

9

2.3

Grey Wolf (Canis lupus)

4

1.0

Badger (Meles meles)

3

0.7

Brown Bear (Ursus arctos)

3

0.7

European Hare (Lepus europaeus)

3

0.7

Eurasian Otter (Lutra lutra)

1

0.26

Caucasian Squirrel (Sciurus anomalus)

14

3.6

Feral horse and Donkey

79

20.5

Feral Cat

8

2.08

The male wolf is a melanistic individual (Figure 1), while the female is normal in colour. The presence of both the black and the normal-coloured individual in several of the infrared shots allows a good comparison between the fur colour to be made (Figure 1). The melanistic Grey Wolf has a healthy appearance and was apparently the leader of the pair.

The melanistic Grey Wolf is the first record of a melanistic individual of this species in Turkey. The record is also the first record of a Grey Wolf in MuÄŸla Province, at its lowest altitude in Turkey. Soyumert et al. (2010) conducted a camera trap based survey at exactly the same location from November 2005 to August 2006. During this survey, despite 197 camera trap days of effort in the same habitat, no Grey Wolf, Caracal, Brown Bear or Badger photos were captured. This could indicate extremely low densities of Grey Wolf and other carnivores in the area. Our study once again confirms the importance of intensive long-term surveys for wildlife researches.

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Turan (1984) noted that Grey Wolves are settling in Turkey in mountainous areas above 800 m a.s.l. in summer, but descend to 400 m a.s.l. in winter. Other studies conducted in Turkey on Grey Wolves and other carnivores confirm this (Can, 2001; Ertürk, 2010). This may be the result of human persecution which has put pressure on wolves to settle in mountainous areas (Massolo & Meriggi, 1998; Sulkava & Pulliainen, 1999). Our records (215 m a.s.l.) are the first distribution records for this species from such a low altitude. As the availability of prey and the lack of human disturbance are the major parameters effecting the occurrence of the Grey Wolf (Christopher et al., 2003; Ertürk, 2010), the study area provides good preconditions: The densities of wild feral horses, wild donkeys and wild boars are very high in the area (Table 1) and none of the records during 384 camera trap days were of humans, livestock or feral dogs. Although the area is close to tourist centres such as Marmaris, it is very isolated from human disturbance and feral horses and donkeys are good prey items for the wolves. Under such conditions Grey Wolves could survive at such low altitudes.

Melanistic Grey Wolves are well-known particularly in North America, but melanism is extremely rare or absent in the majority of the European and Asian populations except in the Italian population (Heptner & Naumov, 1998; Greco, 2009). Black phenotypes have never been reported from Turkey before. There is, for instance, no record of a melanistic wolf among the 1200 inventory records (starting in 2003) compiled by the General Directorate of Nature Protection and National Parks (M. Kantarlı, pers. comm., 15 September 2013). Also none of the 36 photographic records of Grey Wolves uploaded to the national mammal reporting website TRAMEM (www.tramem.org) was melanistic.

Mutations in the melanocortin 1 receptor gene (Mc1r) result in pigment variety in natural populations of many mammals (Anderson et al., 2009). As found in North American wolves (Anderson et al., 2009), European researchers reported that melanism in the Italian population is caused by a recently discovered melanocortin pathway component, the K locus, in which a beta-defence protein acts as an alternative ligand for the Mc1r (Greco, 2009). Anderson et al. (2009) pointed out that the black coat gene shows evidence of positive selection in forest wolves. Contrary to the North American study, Greco (2009) stated that the black colour could not be advantageous for specific habitat selection in Italy because black individuals are reported from dry areas near sea level to mountain forests. Our results support this study, with low altitude records of a melanistic Grey Wolf from Turkey.

There are two possible explanations for melanism in canids: it can either be the result of hybridisation with melanistic domestic dog, or the occurrence of a black coat originating from a natural combination of wolf alleles in coat colour determining genes (Anderson et al., 2009; Greco, 2009; Caniglia et al., 2013). I believe that the blackcoated Grey Wolf observed in the Marmaris region is a genetically pure individual because no domestic or feral dogs were found in the area. During a survey in the DatçaBozburun Peninsula which is the adjacent area of the Marmaris region, we also did not obtain feral dog records during 6863 camera trap days (Ä°lemin & Gürkan, 2010). Grey Wolves may travel 50 km in a day (Ertürk, 2010; Mech, 1992; Mech & Boitani, 2003). It cannot be ruled out that melanistic individuals or melanistic genes could come from populations in Inner Anatolia where there is some evidence for mating between feral dogs and Grey Wolves (H. Ä°. Yolcu, pers. comm., 25 September 2013). However, I regard this as unlikely due to the highly antagonistic behaviour of feral dogs towards Grey Wolves throughout Western Anatolia. Genetic analyses would be necessary for a final assessment.