Conservation Status of the Eastern Spotted Skunk Spilogale Putorius in the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee

By Reed, Aaron W.; Kennedy, Michael L. | The American Midland Naturalist, July 2000 | Go to article overview

Conservation Status of the Eastern Spotted Skunk Spilogale Putorius in the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee


Reed, Aaron W., Kennedy, Michael L., The American Midland Naturalist


ABSTRACT.-The conservation status of the eastern spotted skunk (Spilogale putorius) was assessed in the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee from November 1995 through June 1997. Population status and seasonal abundance were examined using live-trapping on an 8 X 8 grid in Monroe County. Relative abundance was assessed at selected sites in Blount, Greene, Monroe, Unicoi and Washington counties employing additional live-trapping methods. In 5723 trap-nights only four S. putorius were captured (trap-success rate = 0.07%). The most common mammals captured were the opossum (Didelphis virginiana) and the raccoon (Procyon lotor). All eastern spotted skunks were captured in rhododendron (Rhododendron spp.) thickets near streams. A program to monitor the status of the species in the Appalachians is recommended as a management measure.

INTRODUCTION

The eastern spotted skunk (Spilogale putorius) is a small to medium-sized mustelid that occurs throughout south-central Pennsylvania down the Appalachian Mountain chain to Florida, west to the Continental Divide and south to Tamaulipas, Mexico (Hall, 1981). It has been known in several areas of the Appalachian Mountains of the eastern United States since the early 1900s (Howell, 1906).

However, the abundance of Spilogale putorius in the southern Appalachians is unclear. Lee et al. (1982) suggested that S. putorius was abundant in North Carolina in the Appalachian Mountains and outnumbered the striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis) in most areas and Howell (1921) reported the species as common in Alabama. Mammal surveys conducted in eastern Tennessee (eg., Howell, 1906; Komarek and Komarek, 1938; Kellogg, 1939; Howell and Conaway, 1952; Conaway and Howell, 1953; Linzey and Linzey, 1968; Smith et al., 1974) have not reported this species at high density. Additionally, the harvest of S. putorius by fur trappers in Tennessee has not been significant in the past 40y, even when prices for pelts of spotted skunks were high (Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, 1993). Furthermore, the harvest of spotted skunks in Tennessee and surrounding states has historically been considerably lower than in several other areas within the species' range (Deems and Parsley, 1978; Novak et al., 1987). Because previously mentioned studies have been descriptive, quantitative investigations of the status of S. putorius in the Appalachians are lacking for resource management.

Because the Appalachian Mountains of eastern Tennessee are representative of lands throughout much of the Appalachian chain (see Baily, 1980), this region is an appropriate site for studying population levels of Spilogale putorius. The purpose of the present study was to assess the status and describe the habitat of the eastern spotted skunk in the Appalachian Mountains of eastern Tennessee.

METHODS

The study was conducted in the northern and southern portions of the Cherokee National Forest and adjacent areas in eastern Tennessee (Blount, Carter, Greene, Johnson, Monroe, Unicoi and Washington counties) from November 1995 through June 1997. The areas were characterized by rugged terrain, heavily forested slopes and rushing streams with waterfalls (Springer and Elder, 1980). The valley bottoms range in elevation from about 300 m in the south to 500 m in the north, and forests grade from oaks (Quercus spp.) and pine (Pines spp.) through eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), cove hardwoods that include yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), black cherry (Prunus serotina) and yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis) and northern hardwoods with American beech (Fagus grandifolia), sugar maple (Acer saccharum), yellow birch and mountain maple (Acer spicatum). Common understory trees include sassafras (Sassafras albidum) and flowering dogwood (Corpus florida). Logging has resulted in small clearcuts (<10 ha) of varying age on the study sites with early successional vegetation such as blueberry (Vaccinium spp.

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