European Wildcats in Limburg
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The European wildcat (Felis silvestris silvestris) recently returned to forests in Limburg after being locally extinct in the Netherlands for more than a thous and years. Wildcats are beneficial for biodiversity because they can function as an umbrella and flagship species in conservation efforts. To facilitate a stable metapopulation of wildcats in the Netherlands, more knowledge is needed on wildcat presence, habitat quality and corridors. In this study, I determined wildcat presence with a camera trap study in forests in Zuid-Limburg. I found six wildcats in Vijlenerbos, and one each in Savelsbos, Groote Bosch and De Molt in the Bovenste Bosketen. These are the first confirmed sightings of wildcats in Savelsbos and Groote Bosch. Additionally, I applied an existing habitat suitability model to analyse suitable wildcat home ran ges in the province of Limburg. I found that habitat patches are suboptimal in Zuid-Limburg, even though it is the only region in the Netherlands where wildcats are currently present. The most important reasons for the low habitat quality is that forest patches are either too small or too close to villages. Using a least-cost path analysis, I identified a connection network for forests in Zuid-Limburg and the major obstacles where green corridors can be established to improve the connectivity of small forest patches in Zuid-Limburg. With these green corridors, there are more opportunities for wildcat dispersion, and forests in Zuid-Limburg can hold a wildcat subpopulation. In Noord-Limburg, I identified 13 suitable home ranges with a total area of 276 km2 , which can hold an accumulative subpopulation size of 76-137 wildcats. An analysis of the least-cost pathways through Limburg revealed that villages and roads in Zuid-Limburg act as major obstacles for wildcat dispersal. The most feasible routes to the potential home ranges in NoordLimburg might through Germany and Belgium. Therefore, international cooperation is of vital importance when designing a corridor plan for wildcats and other species in the Netherlands.