Unlikely Critters Found in Avocado Orchards

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journal.pone.0068025.g002Wildlife isn’t always restricted to wild spaces.

Avocado orchards and other agricultural landscapes also buzz with species that forage and reproduce in these spaces. Birds and herbivores are able to find food and shelter in these cultivated areas, but what about carnivores?  In a study published this week in PLOS ONE, researchers at the University of Washington have discovered that mammalian carnivores also occupy avocado orchards in southern California.

The authors used motion-activated cameras to observe animals in orchards and in adjacent wild lands in Santa Barbara and Ventura.  Avocado orchards were of particular interest due to their location near native vegetation.

Through their investigation, the researchers detected more carnivores in the avocado orchards than in neighboring wild land sites. At least 7 out of the 11 native carnivores in the area were spotted roaming the orchards, including coyotes, gray foxes and bobcats.3561367265_093313316f

Having delicious avocados handy may explain why some omnivores such as bears and raccoons are present in the area, however, little is known about why animals like bobcats and mountain lions might leave their wild habitat for cultivated land. One possibility is that the orchards provide water and fruits for herbivores, and an increased herbivore population could translate to more prey for the carnivores. The orchards may also serve as shelter, offering forest cover similar to oak woodlands in the area.

These native species cannot always persist in protected reserves, so it is important to learn how cultivated lands can serve their lifestyle and behaviors. The carnivores may not be searching for the perfect guacamole ingredient; however there is no doubt that the avocado orchards are serving as a habitat for a wide range of species.

Citation: Nogeire TM, Davis FW, Duggan JM, Crooks KR, Boydston EE (2013) Carnivore Use of Avocado Orchards across an Agricultural-Wildland Gradient. PLoS ONE 8(7): e68025. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0068025

Image 1: doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0068025

Image 2: Image on Flickr by Graeme Churchard

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