Hedgehog hang-outs and foxes on the trot: make your mark on the mammal map

Atlas of Mammals in Ireland project is mapping where wild mammals are – and it wants your help

Where was the last wild mammal you spotted in Ireland? Perhaps you spied a fox stealing across a yard, a seal surfacing offshore or a rabbit hopping across a field? The Atlas of Mammals in Ireland project wants to know.

The initiative is mapping where wild mammals are in Ireland and is keen for citizen scientists – including you – to play their part.

The project kicked off five years ago with the aim of building a consolidated database of mammal sightings in Ireland, explains Dr Liam Lysaght, director of the National Biodiversity Data Centre, which co-ordinates the network of partners involved.

“A lot of different organisations and individuals were doing different studies on mammals,” he says. “So we wanted to bring together data from different partners in a consolidated database where we would have good visibility on the 65 or so terrestrial and marine species that occur here.”

Greater spotted citizen

Many of the sightings in the atlas database come through partners such as Bat Conservation Ireland and the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, but the Atlas is keen to have input from non-scientists too, says Lysaght. It provides an online form where people can log the details.

At the moment, citizen scientists directly record around 500 casual sightings a month on the database, and the overall tally of sightings is around 120,000; input that Lysaght hopes will build a solid basis for decision-making and a baseline for tracking changes in mammal distribution here.

The data-collation phase of the project is due to finish at the end of 2015, and a published atlas is expected about a year later, but already some interesting trends are emerging.

One is how the bank vole is on the march. “Over a number of decades it has spread through Limerick, Kerry and the north Cork region, and now it is moving across the country,” says Lysaght. “So we are documenting that spread.”

Another mammal on the move is the greater white-toothed shrew, a relatively recent introduction to Ireland that appears to be locally outcompeting the incumbent pygmy shrew, notes Lysaght.

The sightings are even telling us where hedgehogs do and don’t hang out. “There was very little empirical data about the distribution of hedgehogs,” he says.

“But we are seeing now that they are widespread with the exception of north-west Mayo, parts of Wicklow and parts of the drumlin belt around Cavan, where there are gaps.”

Everyday sightings

Getting the public involved means being able to pick up on the mammals that sometimes evade the scientists, such as the Irish stoat, but sightings of more commonly spotted species such as foxes, rabbits, rats and badgers are also valuable to the atlas.

“Even a casual sighting of a fox crossing the road is useful,” says Lysaght. “If we get quite a lot of those data we can make quantitative assessments of what is happening. We are trying to get people, as part of their daily lives, to be a bit more observant and if they see [wild mammals] that they have a conduit to give the data to us.”

See http://mammals.biodiversityireland.ie/

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