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Otters reveal their identity
Date:6/5/2008

ins bare witness the following morning to the otters feeding habits. Since these nocturnal and dawn-active animals are particularly demanding to their habitat, Lutra lutra belongs to the category of very threatened mammal species in Central Europe. These gourmet-eaters with their brown fur and many long vibrissae around the mouth are extremely shy. It is difficult enough to observe them but to catch them is nearly impossible. But how can the otter protected effectively if there are only very vague assumptions about its numbers? Experts estimate the otter population in the heath and pond region of the Oberlausitz Biosphere Reserve to be anything between 200 and 600 individuals. "The State of Saxony pays compensation for the damage that otters cause to fish farms. Therefore a cheap and simple method is required, which can be used to estimate the otter population, so that one has an idea of how much compensation one should be paid", Dr. Bernd Gruber from the UFZ describes one of the problems. "In practice it is difficult to check the real damage. Somebody would have to go out to the site each time and take a look at the fish and otter traces, which is just not feasible."

Just like every other predator, the otter also leaves traces behind. Researchers are now using these traces, in order to be able to estimate the number of animals in an area more accurately than was previously possible. Up to thirty times a day an otter will mark its territory to indicate its presence to potential partners or competitors. "The practical thing about the otter is that it uses its droppings for the social communication and therefore leaves them exposed, making it very easy for us to find", explains Simone Lampa, who together with her UFZ colleagues collected over 700 faecal samples in the Oberlausitz over the last two years. As the cells at the surface of the intestine are constantly regenerated in vertebrates and the old cells are discarded, tiny DNA traces are found on each faecal
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Contact: Tilo Arnhold
presse@ufz.de
49-341-235-1635
Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres
Source:Eurekalert  

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