Conservation in human-modified landscapes is important for riparian animals as their habitats extend linearly beyond adjoining protected areas. We examined occupancy and intensity of habitat use of Asian small-clawed otters in coffee and tea plantations and an adjoining protected area in the Western Ghats. We sampled 66 stream segments of 500 m length, using spraints as an indicator of habitat use. Several variables characterising the stream and shoreline were also measured. Occupancy, corrected for detection of spraints, was >0.75 in all three land use types, indicating widespread use of the riparian ecosystem in human-modified landscapes. Intensity of habitat use, however, was much lower in tea (2.08 spraints/500 m) and coffee (2.42) plantations than in the protected area (3.86). Using GLMs we identified the abundance of potential refuges (such as boulders and fallen trees), which was greater in the protected area, as the major factor influencing intensity of habitat use. Shoreline diversity, which was lowest in the tea plantation, might also be another factor. The retention of much of the riparian vegetation and the presence of forest fragments which provide refuges have led to wide occupancy of the tea and coffee plantations although with less intensive use. Sand mining, fishing and infrequent poaching might be other reasons for the relatively low use of human-modified landscape. This study highlights the need to retain remnant forests and riparian vegetation, and to control some human activities for integrated management of species like the small-clawed otter in both protected areas and adjoining human-modified habitats.
Tropical Conservation Science 5: 67-78.