The Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra L.) is a top predator in aquatic systems and plays an important role in ecosystem functioning. However, it has undergone dramatic declines throughout Europe as a result of environmental degradation. We examine the putative role of the otter as a bioindicator in Ireland which remains a stronghold for the species and affords a unique opportunity to examine variation in its ecological niche. We describe diet, using spraint contents, along rivers during 2010 and conduct a review and quantitative meta-analysis of the results of a further 21 studies. We aimed to assess variation in otter diet in relation to river productivity, a proxy for natural nutrification and anthropogenic eutrophication, and availability of salmonid prey (Salmo trutta and Salmo salar), to test the hypothesis that otter diet is related to environmental quality. Otter diet did not vary with levels of productivity or availability of salmonids whilst Compositional Analysis suggested there was no selection of salmonid over non-salmonid fish. There was a distinct niche separation between riverine and lacustrine systems, the latter being dominated by Atlantic eel (Anguilla anguilla). Otters are opportunistic and may take insects, freshwater mussels, birds, mammals and even fruit. Otters living along coasts have a greatest niche breath than those in freshwater systems which encompasses a wide variety of intertidal prey though pelagic fish are rarely taken. It is concluded that the ability of the otter to feed on a wide diversity of prey taxa and the strong influence of habitat type, renders it a poor bioindicator of environmental water quality. It seems likely that the plasticity of the habitat and dietary niche of otters, and the extent of suitable habitat, may have sustained populations in Ireland despite intensification of agriculture during the 20th century.
- Dietary analysis
- Percentage frequency and occurrence
- Aquatic ecosystems
- White-clawed crayfish