The Irish Stoat Project is a collaboration between the VWT and the Mammal Ecology Group at National University of Ireland (NUIG). This exciting PhD research project started in October 2013 and aims to provide crucial information on the ecology of this elusive mammal.
The Irish stoat is recognised as a near endemic subspecies (also found on the Isle of Man), quite distinct in both morphology and ecology from those found in Britain and further afield. It has been present in Ireland since before the last Ice age, and has been isolated on the island for a very long time.
The stoat in Ireland is protected under Irish (Wildlife Acts 1976 and 2000) and international (Bern Convention, Appendix III) legislation, and is an important element of Irish biodiversity, yet we know so little about this native mammal. This is partly due to the difficulty in studying an elusive animal that is challenging to handle. There is a particular lack of information on stoat ecology, and a real need for information on the habitat requirements and population dynamics of this important animal. There is no reliable population estimate available for the species in Ireland.
This current project builds on a pilot study carried out by the VWT’s Kate McAney in County Galway in 2010, where hair tubes were investigated as a means of detecting the presence of stoats in hedgerows. This study will be using a variety of techniques to monitor stoats; including investigation into habitat usage, a distribution survey, genetic analysis and dietary analysis.
The construction of an all-island stoat distribution map is underway, based on sightings reports. As well as a general call for information from the public, contact has been made with key groups such as the National Parks and Wildlife Service conservation rangers, forestry workers and farmers. This distribution map is a ‘living document’, with amendments made as the project progresses and more information becomes available.
Stoat presence and habitat use will be investigated using three non-invasive methods (hair tubes, footprint track tubes and line transect searches for faeces). Records of stoats will be mapped using GIS to examine the habitat use and activity behaviour of the stoats. Besides providing essential information on an important native species, this project will examine the use of non-invasive techniques in studying mammals and will inform conservation genetics projects in general.
Road kill specimens are being collected from all parts of Ireland and tissue samples from these animals will be used in the development of molecular tools for genetic analysis of samples. Post-mortems carried out on these specimens will focus on a number of areas; morphometric analysis, parasitology, dietary analysis and reproduction and age profile.
To date there has been a fantastic response from the public. Exciting times lie ahead, and an opportunity to gain essential knowledge about one of Ireland’s true natives. This project will give us a fascinating insight into how Irish stoats are interacting and using habitats, particularly in this changing landscape of ours.
If you see a stoat please enter your sighting onto the Irish stoat distribution survey here.
Contact Laura O’Flynn, from the Mammal Ecology Group at NUIG:
Phone: 00353 91 492903