Hedgehogs in Greater London
Hedgehogs are thought to be at high risk from habitat fragmentation.
Understanding the threats hedgehogs face in fragmented urban landscapes
As hedgehog populations have declined dramatically in recent decades, urban areas have emerged as an increasingly important refuge for the species, where they can take advantage of natural and anthropogenic food, shelter, and reduced threats from rural predators.
However, the urban environment is extremely different from more natural landscapes and can present significant challenges for wildlife populations. Habitat loss and fragmentation are especially severe, as greenspace is lost to development and remaining areas are left surrounded by buildings, roads, and high numbers of people. As a result, wildlife populations become smaller, more isolated, and at higher risk of decline and extinction. Fragmented populations are particularly susceptible to harmful genetic processes such as drift, which reduces genetic diversity and makes populations less able to cope with changes to their environment, as well as a greater risk of inbreeding depression.
As a small terrestrial mammal, hedgehogs cannot easily cross man-made barriers and are thought to be highly vulnerable to the negative consequences of fragmentation. This may mean populations are less able to survive in the long-term in urban areas. To better protect hedgehogs in these habitats, we urgently need to fully understand how this important threat is impacting hedgehogs.
Studying hedgehogs within the UK’s largest city
Jessica Turner, based at the Institute of Zoology and Queen Mary University of London, will investigate how fragmented hedgehog populations in Greater London are and what impact this is having on them. London is an extensive urban area where hedgehog populations are known to be in decline and have collapsed in the city centre.
Using ecological and genetic approaches, she will focus on how the urban landscape shapes hedgehog distribution, genetic structure and connectivity across the city. In particular, she will examine whether urban hedgehog populations have reduced genetic diversity and elevated inbreeding characteristic of fragmented populations. Jessica will also try and establish just how many hedgehogs there are and a better understanding of hedgehogs’ demographic history. She will also explore how urban characteristics influence where hedgehogs are found within the city and which features of the landscape act as barriers or corridors for hedgehog movements.
The insights gained from this project will be invaluable for understanding this potentially important threat to urban hedgehog populations, and will be useful for informing future conservation efforts to enhance the long-term survival of these hedgehogs across the city.
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