Scale-dependent factors affecting North American river otter distribution in the midwest

MacKenzie R. Jeffress, Craig P. Paukert, Joanna B. Whittier, Brett K. Sandercock, Philip S. Gipson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


The North American river otter (Lontra canadensis) is recovering from near extirpation throughout much of its range. Although reintroductions, trapping regulations and habitat improvements have led to the reestablishment of river otters in the Midwest, little is known about how their distribution is influenced by local- and landscape-scale habitat. We conducted river otter sign surveys from Jan. to Apr. in 2008 and 2009 in eastern Kansas to assess how local- and landscape-scale habitat factors affect river otter occupancy. We surveyed three to nine 400-m stretches of stream and reservoir shorelines for 110 sites and measured local-scale variables (e.g., stream order, land cover types) within a 100 m buffer of the survey site and landscape-scale variables (e.g., road density, land cover types) for Hydrological Unit Code 14 watersheds. We then used occupancy models that account for the probability of detection to estimate occupancy as a function of these covariates using Program PRESENCE. The best-fitting model indicated river otter occupancy increased with the proportion of woodland cover and decreased with the proportion of cropland and grassland cover at the local scale. Occupancy also increased with decreased shoreline diversity, waterbody density and stream density at the landscape scale. Occupancy was not affected by land cover or human disturbance at the landscape scale. Understanding the factors and scale important to river otter occurrence will be useful in identifying areas for management and continued restoration.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)177-193
Number of pages17
JournalAmerican Midland Naturalist
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2011


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