Diet of a semiaquatic invasive mammal in northern Italy: could it be an alarming threat to the endemic water vole?
The American mink Neovison vison has been introduced to Italy for fur farms in the 1950s. Since the 1970s, free-ranging individuals are present in north-eastern Italy, where an expanding population still occurs. In our work, we aimed at assessing the seasonal diet of invasive American mink introduced to north-eastern Italy. Thus, a total of 195 mink scats (N=73, June 2007; N=57, September 2007; N=65, February 2008) were collected. Scats were washed and food remains isolated and classified through comparison with reference collections and atlases. Absolute and relative frequencies, as well as the estimated volume of each prey category were computed. The endemic Italian water vole Arvicola italicus represented the staple of the diet of the American mink in June (relative frequency: 20.4%, total volume in diet: 38.1%) and September (relative frequency: 22.7%, total volume in diet: 52.0%). Other small mammals, amphibians (Rana spp. and Pelophylax spp.) and the invasive red swamp crayfish Procambarus clarkii were mostly consumed in cold months, when water voles are not available. Differently from other study areas, wading birds and fish were rarely consumed, possibly because of their low local availability, if compared with small mammals. No law currently protects the endemic water vole, which may be furtherly threatened by the potential range expansion of invasive minks. Therefore, eradication of this alien carnivore should be recommended before local population decline of water vole become irreversible, and before minks reach populations of native riverine mustelids, i.e. the western polecat and the Eurasian otter.